Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The A to Z of new mum life ...so far


Alcohol – no, really. You can drink a glass of wine (or some drink of choice) to take the edge off a long day, even if breastfeeding. This was very welcome news to me. Of course this is meant to be done in moderation, and you have to plan carefully – calculate when the next feed is, how many units of alcohol you are having, and how long it takes to work out of your system (usually 1 unit of alcohol per hour). Also drink water and eat food with your drink, and voila life seems a bit less drab again - especially after all those months of teetotalling during pregnancy!

Breast or bottle feeding – this is one of the big questions you will be faced with right from the start, so best to give it a lot of thought during pregnancy – in fact, the propaganda from both sides starts then already, so arm yourself with as much information as you can find, then make your own decision, based on your own values and priorities. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty if you struggle to breastfeed and for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. Most of us were bottle fed and we all seem to be fine.

Having said that, there are so many advantages to breastfeeding that it’s worth at least giving it a good go first... if you can. If you struggle, get support, support and more support before throwing in the towel. The first 2 weeks or so can be harrowing, and if you don’t get the right sort of support and information, it will be all too easy to give up – or even believe you are unable to. Most people end up thinking they can’t simply because they haven’t been told about all the many possible issues that come up in breastfeeding – and how to resolve them. Don’t listen to the well-intentioned but misinformed whining of friends who didn’t make it either – find those who did. And of course, get information from the experts: La Leche League International (http://www.llli.org/).

Consumed – this little bundle has arrived into the very centre of my life, heart and universe – and consumed all other interests, passions or desires… It really feels like everything is all about her now! I suspect some semblance of balance will return someday, but for now I am just enjoying every moment of my obsession.

Dancing – this is another sanity saver… I dance when I am rocking bubs to sleep, I dance to some of my favourite music during the day, with her in my arms, as a way of bonding and moving about a bit (movement is good for bubs’ development of spatial awareness too)… and I plan to go dancing with beloved husband as our fortnightly ‘date night’ some time soon ;D Bellydancing is also a great way to ‘reconnect with your body’ after pregnancy and labour have made you feel somewhat estranged from that reflection in the mirror…

Electrolytes - if breastfeeding, these are especially needed to stay hydrated during the day. However I can imagine even a new mum who is bottle feeding and getting up several times in the night, might benefit from these. A well known recipe for ‘jungle juice’ has made a huge difference to my energy levels these first few months: fill a jug with about a litre of water, 1 sachet of electrolyte mix (available from chemists) and a tablespoon of that crazy berry elixir stuff you can find in health shops (or good chemists). It really works. For variety, add a glass of your favourite fruit juice to the mix.

Flexible – as a new mum, you will need to be flexible about just about everything: your schedule, routine, plans and rules often go out of the window… as do your previous sense of self, body/ self image, former ways of relating to your partner (or even friends, family and strangers!), and a myriad of other unexpected aspects of who you once thought you were, and what you thought life would look like!

Gripe water – Magic! Don’t ask me why, just buy it. Stock spares, and carry a bottle wherever you go. Get the non-alcohol version though – older generations appear to have had fewer qualms about intoxicating their bubs from a young age… This non-medicated natural remedy (it’s basically dill, fennel and sodium bicarbonate) seems to resolve any and every ‘gripe’ bubs might have in these early months – aside from serious illnesses, which need medical attention of course – so you can use it whenever needed, even a few times a day. Reflux, colic, cramps, bloating and indigestion… all seem to disappear within minutes! Magic.

Husband – if you have one, don’t forget/ neglect him! Even if he drives you crazy at times, or it feels like he ‘just doesn’t get it’ at first… He can be your greatest blessing, friend, comforter, team-mate, supporter and …of course, lover, still. So don’t neglect the friendship or the intimacy (after the first few crazy – and sore – weeks)! You can’t do without it. Yes, I know, bubs’ adorableness and all her needs seem to fill your entire universe at present (see C above)…but this will pass. Sort of. Or it should…

Anyway, it’s not healthy to put bubs at position number 1 in your life – you need to parent from a marriage-centered position, because if the marriage falls apart, bubs will not feel happy or secure anyway (for a very long time), even if you are a wonderful mum and capable person. Sorry, it may be non-pc to say this, but it’s true. Ideally, children need a stable, loving family environment to grow up in. We don’t live in an ideal world, but this shouldn’t stop us from aiming for the very best we can give our children in terms of their start in life… Again, managing this one might require oodles of support – information, advice, even counselling - if you need it, get it. NOW.

Immunisations – another huge and terrifying decision to make. Yes, decision – you can actually decide not to immunise your child, and it’s a choice a lot of highly educated people are making nowadays. For a great summary (level-headed and non-sensationalist) of the reasons to be wary or concerned about immunisations, start here:

JOY!! So much of…

KISSES! What else can you do but kiss this adorable creature, from head to tiny, delicious toes… constantly.

Lullabies - I always said I would use controlled crying and all those techniques to ensure my baby has a good routine… yadda yadda. Yet now that she is here, I prefer to hold her lovingly, rocking and swaying to some lullabies for just a few minutes till she falls asleep- I have decided that knowing she is loved and secure is a more important lesson to start life with. Plenty of time later in life for the hard lessons - and anyway I want discipline to be founded on a very deep foundation of love first. From 6 months I may try gentle techniques, but I am pretty much going to see when she is ready, rather than feeling bullied into a particular approach.

Music – I, for one, can’t live without it (and music of course already featured in D and L). But in a broader sense than lullabies or dancing and fun, music is so important and can be an integral part of your life as a new mum – soothing you when you are tired, playing in the background as bubs plays on her own, livening up the times when it’s just the two of you (which is usually most of the time). Exposing bubs to a wide range of music from very early on is a wonderful gift you can give her, while also affecting many areas of her development. I mean good music though (classical, jazz, blues, and well chosen contemporary artists), not noise or nonsense from the hit charts. 

Natural birth – as far as possible… This is a point worthy of a whole blog post of its own (and I may write about this in time) but for now suffice to say that going the natural birth route, rather than opting in advance for caesarian section and pain-relieving medicine, significantly increases your chances of having a much healthier baby, and less problems with bonding, breastfeeding, and many other areas or stages of bubs’ development. There is a large body of evidence already to prove that this is the case on many levels.

The only reason you may not have heard about any of these links, is that the ‘birth industry’ is mostly a money-making racket, like everything else these days. Of course natural birth is not always possible, but you’d be surprised to know how much more possible and beneficial it is than you may have been told. If you want to know more, read any of Sheila Kitzinger’s woman-centered birthing books as a starting point.

Olive oil – again, a tip for breastfeeding mums. Sore or cracked nipples were not much of an issue for me – I used olive oil, on the advice of a friend. Many, many things are recommended and sold, but this one really works – and its natural enough not to worry if bubs ingests it (how would you avoid this with creams etc.?) In fact, olive oil is good for bubs’ little tummy/ digestion.

Play – not only important for bubs’ development, but for your own sanity! Even housework can be incorporated into ‘fun’ for bubs to take part in… (in a sling or stroller in the early days). Resist the temptation for housework to take up most of your day – set aside huge chunks of your day to play and bond with your little treasure. Nothing else is as important. I have struggled to do this myself, as we are moving and I have a million things to do and organise… but really, this time with bubs is so precious and fleeting, and almost every day sees another milestone reached – sitting, sucking toes, crawling... You don’t want to miss these!

Questions – you will have many… try to throw your nets wide – don’t just speak to the Doctor or some friend or family member… look online, read books, speak to others who have been on this journey… and then, of course, make your own (informed) decision…
I would highly recommend Miriam Stoppard’s ‘Complete Baby & Child Care’ as the most comprehensive reference to the first five years, to keep at home.

Read – Why? See above… Yes, there is such a thing as ‘reading too much’ and becoming very confused and anxious as a result of all the conflicting advice the various books may give… But looking around me today, I see more new mums suffering from the opposite affliction – a lack of good information on which to base well-informed decisions…

Surrender – this new mum life (if you are going to do it well) demands an unconditional surrender of self, plans, agenda, body… just about everything you have to give, and even everything you have ever held onto as being ‘non-negotiable’ before. But it’s good for us. This is what growing up, and growing wiser, is all about… And it’s only just the beginning.

Teamwork – without it you could come unstuck, very, very quickly. See H above… but even if you are a single parent, you should try to enlist the help of a friend, neighbour, mother or sister in the early days if you can! (Even just to help you cook/ clean, or to hold bubs while you sleep or shower).

Understanding – this is probably the main thing I have craved as a new mom. Understanding from husband, friends, family, other women… It is surprisingly hard to come by - even though so many people have been parents themselves, they forget… Again, refer to R above – the first time I read and identified with a few paragraphs of a book by a new mum (there were a few that struck a chord with me), I felt such a strong sense of relief, and ‘ahh, it’s not just me… I am not mad…’ I also highly recommend seeking out other women, further ahead on this journey, to occasionally talk over a cup of tea or three…

Vitamins! Can’t live without them. Sure I don’t have to explain why. Especially if breastfeeding, but even if not… you need to be as healthy as possible to cope with the demands of this new mum life.

Water, water, water – covers a multitude of sins… (wasn’t that love?) Love your body – give it plenty of water to detox, energise and continue to support you in this new mum life. If breastfeeding, you need it even more, to keep up that milk supply (see also E above), and to avoid feeling like a dried up old prune (skin, lips, everything…)!!

Xtreme feelings, thoughts and xenophobia – yes, apparently it’s not just me. New mums are prone to crazy anxieties about bubs’ health and safety, and over-the-top protective reactions as a result. Nappies and temperature changes are monitored for any hint of possible health issues. Every stranger seems to be a walking germ factory or potential child abductor/ molester. Windows on the first floor of our home appear to me to be perfectly possible escape routes for the mad person lurking in our garden, waiting to snatch sleeping bubs out of her crib as soon as they know I am washing the dishes downstairs…

Relax. If your feelings or thoughts are a bit on the extreme side, it’s probably a combination of hormones, sleep deprivation, the natural protectiveness mothers are meant to have… and well, yes, a form of temporary insanity (just hope it passes). Try to keep things in perspective by talking to others (voiced fears are never as scary as those we dare not mention), and by developing a healthy sense of humour so you can laugh off your silliest anxieties. I also find it useful ‘googling’ some things to see how likely it is that you could, say, catch polio from a public swimming pool (surprisingly possible….although very unlikely!)…

Yellow – what a concept! You mean it doesn’t have to be pink or blue? No, you can buy clothes for your child in a range of ‘unisex’ colours, and not just the seemingly obligatory gender-coded pink or blue. Not only does this give your child a fighting chance of developing into a more interesting individual than the Barbie/ Ken look-alikes one day, it also means saving money if you plan to have more children. Having said all this, I found myself surprisingly drawn to pink since bubs arrived, and dress her in it a lot more than I thought I would. But my point is, there are choices.

Zzz when bubs is sleeping… just like they tell you to. Especially in the early days. Nothing else is as important as sleep. Not housework, not showering, not even eating. Okay eating is pretty important too. But you can last longer without food than without sleep. Mind you, I am ignoring this piece of advice right now – it is close to midnight and I am sitting writing, after a particularly difficult night trying to get bubs to sleep… And I am sick. So I think I should stop this minute and go to bed. Good night.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

pain with a purpose

There is a little angel asleep on my lap - our little girl, born exactly two weeks ago… I am totally smitten with her and can’t put her down or stop staring at her. She is the most precious gift I could ever have imagined, and I am loving every minute of this journey so far. Even the interrupted sleep and pain of breastfeeding can’t override the sheer joy of holding her, snuggled close.

She was born at our home, in a birth pool, with no medical interventions and no painkillers. Labour lasted ‘only’ seven hours, and she was a healthy 3.9kg. Everything went well, and she is healthy, breastfeeding happily, and even allowing her mom 5 hours or so of sleep each night before resuming her voracious feeding.

This is not intended to sound like I am bragging though - in fact, let me start by gratefully acknowledging that we were very blessed throughout this journey. We didn’t struggle to fall pregnant, and I had a straightforward, uncomplicated pregnancy, despite a scare near the end. I am so thankful that everything went well, and despite two weeks or so of having to face some scary decisions, we could go ahead with our planned ‘natural birth’ in the end.

I also didn’t have any last minute complications requiring a transfer to hospital for a caesarian-section or induction or any other now routine medical interventions I was so intent on avoiding (due to their risks and effects on the baby). Our midwife also commented that this was a ‘model labour’ - and I know this too, after listening to the labour stories of most of my friends and family, some of which were quite horrible.

facing fear
My wonderful husband was by my side for the whole journey - my main support and source of loving encouragement. I would not have dreamed of doing this without his full commitment and involvement. He called me courageous, and said I did amazingly well… but from my perspective, I only made it through by the grace of God - faith and trust in a loving Father-Creator carrying me through pregnancy and rapidly towards a long-feared experience (labour) which for me was about as traumatic as I imagined it might be (even in a best-case scenario).

Unlike many who embrace pregnancy and all that goes with it quite easily, I have always been reluctant, even terrified… I only took this on after much emotional and spiritual healing over the last few years, and because of my beloved husband, with whom I could at last picture making this wonderful-but-hairy journey.  In a sense, I felt I had no choice but to ‘do it afraid’ (as the wonderfully honest Joyce Meyer says) – if I wanted the gorgeous baby I am now holding in my arms.

I am not some poster mom for ‘natural/active/home birth’. I was not a ‘blissed-out earth mamma’, nor could I describe the experience as deeply spiritual, beautiful or poetic… or anything other than painful, hard work, terrifying, and something I somehow just managed to ‘survive’… In fact, despite everything going well, and having ‘faced’ my fears... I must say I find the thought of ever doing this again just as terrifying as before, and not something I can even contemplate at the moment.

overwhelming pain
In the throes of labour itself, I remember only one moment of fervent prayer – I was too overwhelmed to pray continually, or ‘properly’, or to sing or dance or any of the things I imagined doing to get me through. My labour kicked in at full intensity – contractions three minutes apart, with no relief in between, as baby’s head was pressing down on the sciatic nerve, causing unbearable pain all the way through (when baby is in this position, it’s called ‘back labour’).

All the secular and new age advice I had received for natural pan relief techniques focused on breathing, visualisation, meditation, birth positions, birth balls and such…and I was in too much pain to really do any of those either. Even massage and counter-pressure, my main pain relief tool, hurt way too much.

The pain was so intense I couldn’t speak much of the time…or move much… or think.  Every moment felt like an eternity, and I didn’t know how long this would last, or if I could do it, if I could cope with another minute. And don’t get me started on describing the visceral pain of baby’s head finally emerging, or the rest of her – when it felt like someone was ripping my insides out! I don’t think I will ever forget those feelings – those who say they quickly forgot the pain of labour must have had some pain relief…

avoiding pain
So you might ask, why did I not have some pain relief too? I mean, I was by no means na├»ve to the pain I was about to go through, and I had no desire to be a martyr or make any sort of statement... Well, again, because of the potential effects on baby, and how it messes with the natural processes of labour - often leading to the need for other interventions, and frequently an emergency caesarian (in South Africa the rate of c-sections is particularly high – 70-80%, whereas the WHO recommends 5-10% is optimal, and an average rate of above 15% does more harm than good).

The pain of labour has a purpose, and steps taken to avoid the pain directly affect the natural processes required to fulfill this purpose – by impeding the release of various hormones which drive each stage of the process of labour. It was amazing to experience this process unfolding completely on its own - in wave-like surges, ever-increasing in intensity, working towards the climactic moment when my body was compelled to release this little one into the world.

So besides the wonderful gift of our little one, and the joy of starting out on the journey into parenthood, what I have been thinking about ever since the labour itself is the phrase ‘pain with a purpose’. My natural inclination is to avoid and fear pain, not to embrace or learn from it… but in labour I was advised to do just that, as relaxing the muscles and working with the contractions, allows them to do their work and causes less pain than when you are tense and resisting them.

what I have learned (again)
Firstly, thank God (literally) that my faith is not based on works/deeds/rituals/saying the ‘right’ prayers at the ‘right’ time… If I had to be in the right state of mind to ask for help, protection and comfort, in the ‘right’ way, or if it all depended on me remembering and applying a set of principles and techniques (In the world of alternative pain relief it seems everyone has their own breathing technique that you absolutely must practice ad nauseum as it is the key to, well, just about everything. Breathe right and you will not feel pain, breathe right and you will live forever!)… I would have been completely panic-stricken when I found myself in too much pain to think straight, breathe in anything but gasps, or do anything other than hug the end of our bed.

But our loving Father knows what we need before we ask, and Holy Spirit is praying with us, for us, and through us ‘with groans too deep for words…’ (Romans 8:26). Looking at that verse in the bible now, I can’t imagine a more appropriate time for its application than childbirth! I groaned, cried, screamed, howled like a banshee – in that last pushing phase especially. I didn’t know I could make such a noise (and it was all involuntary)!

During my pregnancy, I of course tried to prepare myself as much as possible for the inevitable labour - attending antenatal classes, reading many books, visiting the maternity ward at our backup hospital, seeing doctors and midwives, and having many discussions with my patient husband about possible scenarios. But I knew that no amount of preparation could ensure the safety of our baby, or a smooth labour for me.

Some key verses that encouraged me throughout were: ‘in returning [to God] and resting [in God] you shall be saved; in quietness and in [trusting] confidence shall be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15). And ‘not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts’ (Zechariah 4:6). So I stopped trying to memorise all the alternative pain relief and breathing techniques, and spent more time in God’s loving, soothing presence….

Of course the other side of the coin is that faith in God is not like having a fairy godmother who will wave a magic wand to give you all you want, or in this case, make the pain vanish as you say the magic words… God more often takes us through unpleasant, even traumatic experiences, than out of them. By this I do not mean to imply that God sends painful experiences our way, in order to ‘teach us a lesson’… That’s some messed up theology, that would have us believe in a ‘loving Father’ who hurts us to show how much He loves us… NO!

What I mean is simply that faith in God is not formulaic and safe, like many of the New Age techniques which claim all the power rests within us, and we can simply ‘manifest’ whatever we want and need… Knowing God doesn’t guarantee us a pain-free path through this troubled world, but rather a close companion and comforter in the painful times. True faith is a relationship with a personal, eternal being – it is more like a dance than a set of rules, instructions or superstitious rituals which can be followed to guarantee the outcome we desire.

but the ‘problem of pain’ remains…
I am still left pondering a few questions, and they are by no means new ones: In a broader sense, what is the purpose of pain – why do we ever ‘need’ pain? And then from a Christian perspective, there is of course the perennial question - why does God ‘allow’ pain? 

Of course this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for non-Christians and Christians alike. Even plunging into the endless depths of theology, cannot fully satisfy the gnawing question which requires a personal relationship with God to enable us to walk through painful times and events in our own lives without bitterness or recriminations, and without losing our faith.

From a biological perspective, pain indicates that something is wrong, and something needs to be done about it – for example, when your hand is on a hot stove plate, the pain signals tell your brain to tell your hand to ‘move!’ Pain appears to be necessary to get your attention, or your brain and body’s attention. But still, conceivably this ‘trigger’ could have been something tingly, prickly, itchy even…anything other than actual pain. Wouldn’t it have worked as well? Maybe. I don’t know.

What I do know is in a broader life sense, we appear to need painful consequences before we will change our behaviour or our attitudes – a subtle warning doesn’t usually get our attention, and sometimes even a stricken conscience can be ignored or appeased with endless justifications… Is this why God ‘allows’ pain? I don’t know. It certainly seems like part of the explanation.

This is a question without a straightforward answer, an unresolved issue that will take a lifetime to process, a discussion point which seems pointless to discuss, since we cannot know or understand fully the mind of an infinite God… Oh of course, many people have ‘answers’ – usually for every occasion. But these can feel so trite and even insulting when offered to someone in the midst of a painful or tragic experience.

All we know of God is what He reveals to us – and He has said ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:8-9). Enough said.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

surrender

I used to make New Year’s resolutions. I usually made them thoughtfully and sincerely, and they were mostly very worthwhile goals to set for the coming year – ranging from ‘getting fit’, ‘learning to sail’ or ‘going dancing more often’, to ‘spending more time with God’… But I always found that the year would fly by without another look at this list, let alone any lasting implementation of my lofty goals (or even the simple ones).

A few years ago, I decided to stick to three words that summed up the change I wanted to see in my life, and because they were quite deep and broad, these three words became something of a mantra for me for many years in a row. They also had the (intentional) advantage of alliteration, so they were easy to remember: Simplify, Steward, Serve

Sometime later I added another word to my annual resolutions or reminders: Soak – in God’s love, grace, presence, healing and wisdom… This is just another version of my ongoing resolution to ‘spend more time with God’ - setting aside time to pray, worship or just bask in His presence (God, an eternal being, is of course not a ‘he’ but our language is too limited to come up with a better pronoun, and ‘it’ denies the fullness of personhood). 

Of course God's presence is everywhere, all the time, but we are not always attuned to it, and there are also times when God makes his presence more manifest...these are the times when we can be said to have an 'encounter' with God, and they are precious, amazing times...

Setting out daily from this place of intimacy, there is no longer any need to strive to be a better person, or do better – instead, your heart and life is changed simply because you know you are loved beyond measure, unconditionally, and always. The glimpses you catch of God’s heart inspire and enable you to love others, to flow with the currents of His will (not against them), and to live an exceptional life.

These four words are all still important and relevant to me, and form the basis of my life’s orientation and priorities… I will continue to remind myself of these, probably for many years to come – especially since they all require ongoing commitment and are a journey rather than a destination. I have yet to really achieve any of these to a satisfactory degree… but as Joyce Meyer often says, “although I may not be where I want to be yet, thank goodness I am no longer where I was!”

[a fuller discussion of these words and resolutions can be found in the post with the same name under my other blog, 'freedom beauty truth']

However, my word for 2012, which could happily stand alone and keep me ‘busy’ trying to live it fully for years to come, is:

Surrender let go of ego, fear, anger, unforgiveness, control, anxiety, my own agenda, my strong opinions of how things or people should be…

This is actually a word that came to me frequently during the month of June last year, whenever I was spending time in God’s presence… June also happened to be the month we conceived our first child – although I didn’t know that yet! What an amazing word to receive (not for the first time, but with renewed focus), and begin to work on, just before finding out about what was soon to come!

Then in August, the day before I took a pregnancy test and found out, I was in a very intimate time of worship, singing the song ‘You’re the giver of life’, and felt strongly that this was a confirmation that I was pregnant, or that I would be soon. This was planned and wanted - but I thought it might take some time, because of my age, and all the struggles I have seen friends and family go through to conceive.

That day I said ‘thank-you’ and ‘yes’ to the idea of pregnancy, labour (shudder) and motherhood… I felt God’s grace and love would sustain me through all the scary aspects of this for me, especially with my particular background, personality and childhood baggage… If God is the giver of life, then I can accept the gift without fear, knowing it will be good and beautiful, trusting that He feels I am ready to bear the responsibility well, and that His grace will carry me through the times I can’t do it on my own…

The next day, the pregnancy test confirmed that I was pregnant now, not ‘soon’, like in the next year or so…and of course, being me, I went straight into panic and dismay at the reality of it (quite different from the warm, fuzzy idea of it when husband and I chose this path in May)… the responsibility, the ‘no turning back now’ feeling… I railed at myself, at husband, at God:

“What on earth have we done? What if it isn’t the right time for this? What if husband doesn’t really want this, and hadn’t realised it would happen so easily and quickly (as I hadn’t)? What if he runs away? What if I want to run away (and don’t have that option of course)? What sort of mother will I make? What on earth was I thinking, I can’t do this - I am terrified of labour, always have been! What if it’s a disabled child, due to my age – and I am not one of those saintly people who would cope? Whatever happened to adopting instead? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….”

How amazing that God had spoken to me in the months leading up to this, and especially the day before – preparing me for just this moment of panic and doubt! Gently, lovingly, almost imperceptibly, I was nudged back to contemplating this word, ‘surrender’… In the coming weeks and months, I slowly made peace with it all, and found my place of trust in God’s loving arms again…

Not to say I don’t still have moments of fear and panic, but now I see them as unruly, crying, overtired children that simply need to be hugged and put to bed, saying “there, there, it will be okay…everything will feel better in the morning”. Discipline, chiding or judgement at such times is unhelpful, pointless, even harmful. Logic and rational reasoning would be equally wasted. Only love drives away fear.

As Bill Johnson, another Spiritual role model, says: “you only have power over the storm you have peace in” (referring of course to the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat, before calming the storm with just words, when his panicky disciples woke him). This is a profound challenge – holding onto your peace, when surrounded by a storm? I struggle with this one – I easily get ‘sucked in’ and react to what I feel and sense around me, including people’s negative attitudes… instead of responding from a deeper place of peace.

I especially need to apply this when the time comes to give birth (which can be likened to an uncontrollable storm at sea with relentless surges that threaten to engulf you) – I don’t want to give in to terror and panic, but labour from a place of rest…

All the alternative therapies and tools for natural birth advocated in the antenatal workshop we attended this weekend basically amount to one piece of advice: “don’t resist it, or it will be much, much worse… let go, relax, give in to your body and the ‘surges’ - learn to surf them like waves in the ocean… Find your calm place, your place of trust in the midst of it all, and you will find your power – the innate ability of your body to give birth”.

Of course to this, I add my trust in Holy Spirit waves of power, grace and love to be with me, empower me, hold me, keep me from sinking, and carry me through… Without this trust I would not have embarked on this journey in the first place. I know I can’t do this on my own. Yes, my body has been designed with amazing abilities, and I can trust in these natural processes to take their course, if unhindered by my resistance, or by medical intervention… BUT I am still only human. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

So for 2012, I need to surrender. I need to learn to surrender more, and deeper, more fully, and again and again. And when it feels like I can’t anymore, I need to surrender still more. This sounds like an arduous and draining battle, but I am actually trying to describe something that is completely the opposite. This week I found some flashcards which capture the idea perfectly. They are written, one word to a card, in oil pastels and decorated in glitter, and I had made them years ago while I served in the ‘kids ministry’ team at my church in Sydney. This is what they say:

Live carefree before God – he is most careful with you…”

What a beautiful, magical thought! I feel this is the essence of ‘surrender’ – a childlike trust and freedom in our loving, amazing Father, which flows through our lives and looks like… peace, hope, freedom, joy, playfulness, creativity, humility, love…

Ultimately, this ‘abundant life’ that God wants for us is the result, not of striving for perfection, or for ‘more’ of anything, even good things, but of a surrendered heart.