Thursday, August 4, 2016

When parenting is painful

Jess: It’s world breastfeeding week again. Three years ago, I wrote a blog about my struggle with nursing James and the painful decision to give up (Read here).
When I found out I was pregnant again, I vowed that breastfeeding would work this time. I planned a VBAC so that I wouldn’t have to worry about c-section complications getting in the way. We had assumed that my body’s disastrous response to the surgery with James had been the major factor in my inability to breastfeed him. With James, I had skimmed through some books on the topic. With Joseph, I read and read and planned all the ways that this would be different. I wasn’t going to let my body fail me a second time.
After a beautiful natural delivery (you can read about that here), I was able to nurse Joseph immediately. He had a great latch and things seemed to be going beautifully. A little more than 24 hours later, we went home and continued to have a pretty decent nursing relationship. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, since this was new for both of us, but I thought we could figure it out. Wes and my mom did everything to make breastfeeding easy for me. 
Then Joseph started screaming—screaming—every time I tried to feed him. We would fight with him for 45 minutes only to have him feed for a few minutes and pass out in frustration. When we got him into the doctor for his first appointment at 6 days old, he had lost a pound—just like his big brother. I went into HEB in tears on our way home to get the can of formula that would save him from the dehydration and hospital stay that we had with James. Then I got my pump out and went to work. Some of my friends had needed to supplement at first, so I assumed that this was just a stage. 
As Joseph developed nipple preference and my 8-12 pumping sessions per day produced less than 25% of his needs, we called a lactation consultant. It was then—when my second child was more than two weeks old—that I finally discovered the issue. I have a condition called Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). Basically, my milk-producing tissue never developed when I was an adolescent. With each pregnancy, my breasts have developed a little more tissue. So I produced more with Joseph than James, but still nowhere near his needs. 
I was crushed. I didn’t go into breastfeeding either time with some idea that it would be all sunshine and roses. I knew that I would struggle, but I assumed that I would have enough milk for my children. How could my body fail me like this? How could every breastfeeding resource assure me that “almost no women” have true supply issues when at least 5% of us do? Doctors try make previous c-section patients have second c-sections because the risk of uterine rupture during labor increase to .2% from .1% after the first surgery. But “almost no women” have supply issues!? And that is just the women who do research rather than give up when their babies don’t get enough food.
It is painful to be in this place. It is painful to once again be opening cans of formula. It is painful to hear that I’ve taken the “easy way,” or “formula is poison,” or “breast is best.” Everywhere I turn, I can find that last phrase. What about “fed is best”? What about acknowledging the amazing strides science has made so that we can mimic breastmilk for our babies? What about celebrating the fact that my children survived despite my body not being able to nourish them? It is hard to see all of my friends succeed where I have failed. It is hard to watch other mothers feed their children in a way I will never be able to feed mine. It is hard. But my children are thriving, the formula/breastmilk period of their lives is so short, and we have an amazing bond. So during World Breastfeeding Week, I rejoice with those who nurse successfully, I weep with those who cannot, and I remember to not be too hard on my body—after all, it grew and birthed two beautiful boys. What a blessing it is to be their mother.  
Wes: This is going to once again be a blog in which I have very little to say. This is not because I do not have strong feelings and opinions on this, but because, having gone through this twice as Dad—and not as Mom—I have come to realize that my place in this story is not to say anything myself, but to serve as an ally and a megaphone for my wife.
What I want to say is just go re-read everything Jess wrote.
What I need to say is something to those who might find themselves in positions like mine, where your role is one of support. This is one of those times where being the Yes Man is so important. Your job is to encourage your wife in any way she needs, whether it is by spending extra money on consultants, pumps, and tools, by taking her to appointments and sitting beside her, or by handling all of the bottle feedings so she doesn’t have to feel like she’s giving up, your job is to be her biggest support. Your patience might be pushed. Your lack of sleep might reach new levels. Your temper will be tempted. But this is one of those times when you are not the subject. Your focus is on her and the health of your baby.
Remember: this is not just about saving your marriage (although it might). It’s not just about helping your newborn baby (although you should). It’s about helping your spouse remember that she is not a failure, that she is not letting down your child or you or anyone by not being able to breastfeed. It’s about helping her live through what could be one of the darkest times of her life, as she feels physically incapable of being a mom.
Remind her that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, and so is y’all’s child. Then just be prepared to sit with her. It won’t be fun, or easy, or pleasant. But it will almost assuredly be what she needs.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A tale of two births

Jess: On the evening of November 20, 2012, Wes yelled through the bathroom door, “I’ve made some salsa that just might be hot enough to induce labor!” I don’t remember my exact reply, but it was something along the lines of, “Too late!” My water had broken and our first child was on the way. My mom and stepdad had just arrived a few hours before to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, so first we told them, and then we called the midwife. Since I had not had any contractions yet, she told me to stay at home until I felt some or a few hours had passed. So we had dinner, took showers, and watched Airplane! Then we headed to the hospital.

And nothing happened.

For almost a full day, we hung out in the labor room, with my pitocin gradually being increased but having no effect. I wasn’t supposed to get up and walk around because I was hooked up to baby monitoring equipment as well as an IV; my blood pressure had skyrocketed and they were pretty concerned about that. I arrived at the hospital 3cm dialated, but 26 hours after my water broke I was only 4. After attempting a few measures to speed the process along, my midwife finally said aloud what we had been dreading: c-section. She and the OB were concerned about baby developing an infection after being exposed for so long.

Surgery and I do not get along. James was born at 10:21 p.m., healthy and screaming. He was 6 pounds, 1 ounce and 18.5 inches long. Wes was able to hold him pretty soon after. But my midwife lovingly referred to me as a “train wreck” in the days to come. I needed I don’t even know how many supplements, lots of extra attention, and two blood transfusions during my 3.5 more days in the hospital. Even today, I feel like I was robbed of the birth experience I wanted. For weeks and months afterward, I felt guilty for bringing my child into the world in this way. I hated that my body couldn’t do what it was made to do.

Flash forward almost 3.5 years. On the morning of April 6, we had a routine prenatal appointment. We were 3 weeks away from Joseph’s due date, and even though James was early I think Wes and I were both pretty convinced that this baby would stay put longer. But at the appointment, the doctor checked my progress and said she was sure we would have a baby within two weeks. At first, we both panicked, but then we made a few plans for the days and weeks to come and settled back down into waiting for baby.

All day that day, I had cramps on and off. I assumed they were due to the exam and went about my business. James and I went to the library, we had dinner at Wes’ church… just a generally normal day. Wes and I watched some TV, at which point I complained that the cramping had been pretty annoying but not really painful. It wasn’t until we were going to sleep that I realized that the cramping had become somewhat regular. That perhaps I was having contractions. I decided to time them; at this point, Wes had already fallen asleep. Less than a minute after beginning to time the “cramps,” I felt and heard a “pop!” I sprang out of bed and ran to the bathroom—my water had broken!

After calming down and getting myself situated, I went in to wake up Wes. I’ve never seen him wake up or move quite as fast as he did when I said, “Um, honey? My water broke.”

For the next hour or so, we made phone calls, finished packing our hospital bag, and waited for our friend Ryan to come and stay with James. I spent most of the time in the shower, which was a really great way to deal with contractions. By the time we left, they were about 2-3 minutes apart and lasting about 1 minute.

The drive to the hospital was the worst of my life. When we got in the car, Wes realized that we had no gas, so we had to stop at HEB. I was in enough pain that I leapt out of the car and wandered the gas station while he filled up, having several contractions in the minutes that getting gas required. The 30 minute trip to the hospital seemed like it would never end. I have never been so happy to arrive at the emergency room. Wes grabbed everything and we started making our way to labor and delivery, but I had to stop several times on the way because I could no longer walk or talk through contractions.

Our doula, Josie, met us at check-in, where Wes was able to fill out the one bit of paperwork required. I think the nurses recognized that I was in no mood to labor at their desk, so they got us into a room pretty quickly. They were a little worried about my fluid levels so I had an IV of saline for a short time. The nurses checked me and found I was 4 cm dilated—already as far as I had gotten with James and it had only been a couple of hours! We filled out more paperwork (so much paperwork!) and then labor set in even harder.

The next 4 or so hours is kind of a blur. I had major back labor so Josie and Wes took turns putting as much pressure as possible on my back during each contraction. I stood, I laid down, I got on all fours, and I told myself repeatedly that I just needed to get through one more contraction. Somewhere along the way my water fully broke—only the forebag had broken at home. At several points, I was sure that there was no way I could get through labor without pain medication. Without Josie and Wes, I’m sure I couldn’t have—they were so supportive. When I felt like I couldn’t take it any more, the nurses told me it was time to be checked again. I had already decided (in my own mind) that if I wasn’t at least 6 cm, I would ask for an epidural. I was at 9! I distinctly remember laughing somewhat and saying to everyone, “I think I might be able to do this!”

The nurses told me to let them know when I felt pressure because that would mean that pushing time was getting close. Not long after that check, I felt intense pressure—9.5 cm. They called the doctor and started getting the room ready for delivery. I know a whole bunch more people came in, but I don’t recall meeting any of them except Dr. Forbes; she was not my OB, but she was on call so there we were. The only moment during labor when I wanted to yell at/hit someone was when she came in during my “practice” pushes and told the nurses to call her back when I was closer to delivering. If I hadn’t been mid-contraction, we would have had some words…

Not long after that, pushing began in earnest, the doctor came back, and I became concerned again that I couldn’t do it. “The ring of fire” is no freaking joke. But when someone said, “I can see his hair!” I knew that I was going to bring this boy into the world. A few pushes later, he was out! I know it sounds cliché and crazy, but I instantly forgot all the pain, all of the fear, all of the challenges. Joseph was perfect; he screamed bloody murder until the moment they placed him on me. He was so content to lay on his Momma, and I could have stayed like that forever. I’m pretty sure Wes didn’t get to hold him for an hour or so. Oops. This birth was so redeeming for me, and just so amazing. It has been six weeks and I still can’t believe that I did it. And I’m more in love with this precious baby every day.

Wes: I stubbed my toe on the way into the prenatal ward. Worst pain anyone has ever experienced.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How long, oh Lord?

Jess: When I was a just barely fourteen-year-old high school freshman, the world crumbled around me (or so it seemed). On a typical Tuesday morning, terrorists struck out against the US. The World Trade Centers fell, and with them my innocence regarding the power of evil on earth. I was certainly not alone in feeling this way; people all over the country felt fear—for themselves, for their families, for the future of our nation. Yet before the smoke had even stopped billowing, nations from around the world reached out in solidarity with the US. 

As the people of the US rallied together in solidarity, people around the world condemned our attackers and pledged aid where aid might be needed. Not long after seeing the very worst of what people with evil intentions can do, we saw the very best of what people with compassion and good intentions can do. We listened to men and women aboard the airplanes who called their family members with messages of hope and love. We heard about those who stood up against the terrorists and—knowing they would die—struggled to save other innocent people. We watched first responders rush into chaos to save those who were trying to get out. We heard cries like, “Today, we are all Americans,” a resounding call to not let this terrible act of aggression destroy our unity.

Then, in a fit of rage and fear, the US sent troops into a nation in which this terrorist group resided. Fourteen years later, we have still been unable to extricate ourselves from this mess. Despite promises from more than one president, other political leaders, and potential future presidents, we are still at war. An entire generation of Americans has grown up knowing only a nation at war. An entire generation of children thinks that it is normal to expect that some of their friends’ parents—or their own—will have to go overseas and be killed in a winner-less war.

Last week, terrorists attacked Paris. Let us not forget that terrorists attack homes, villages, cities, and nations more or less every day of every week of every year. Yet France and its citizens remind us of ourselves. There has been much discussion of why this tragedy has been so well-covered when others are ignored. Perhaps it is because we see ourselves in the French people who are scared for their lives, the lives of their children, the future of their nation. Perhaps it is because we know what it is like to go from innocence to terror in a few seconds on a normal day. Perhaps it is because we know what it feels like to send out troops in rage and fear to defeat a terrifyingly powerful and well-hidden enemy.

I have been incredibly disappointed by the reactions of many Americans to this disaster in France. Instead of saying, “Today, we are all French,” we are saying, “That’s why you don’t let refugees into your nation.” Instead of saying, “We stand with you in solidarity,” we are saying, “At least it’s not us again.” Instead of saying, “Terror is an enemy that we cannot fight with guns and fear but with unity and hope,” we are saying, “Bomb the hell out of them.” This was not the answer 14 years ago. It is not the answer now. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know that history is repeating itself. The main difference? When the US was attacked, the world joined with us in mourning instead of pointing fingers and placing blame. Have we learned nothing?

Wes: As I am writing this, I still can’t decide what exactly to write about. There are so many points I want to make, so many statements I want to unpack, and so many arguments I want to get in right now that it’s hard to decide which one among them is winning in the emotionally-driven fight currently taking place within my soul. I want to talk about how helping people should not be a partisan position. I want to talk about violence and how it does not beget anything but more violence. I want to talk about how an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. And I want to do all of this because I react with such anger and frustration every time I read something someone wrote or hear something someone said as they are reacting with anger and frustration to an act of terror that’s purpose is to make us react emotively in anger and frustration.

Try to diagram the above sentence and you start to understand just how ridiculous this all is.

I want to talk about all of these things, but I’m going to try, very hard, to practice for a moment a lesson I learned from my Jewish brothers and sisters called sitting shiva. You can read a little more about it here, but the gist of it is this: when someone is in mourning, you join them in mourning. You don’t try to give them answers, you don’t try to fix it, and you don’t try to fill the empty space with emptier words.

Instead, you just sit.

In silence.

And you be with them.

If they want to talk, awesome. Let them. Join in the conversation and engage them how they can be engaged. But if they don’t, if they just want to sit in silence in the muck and mire of brokenness for a little bit, then you do just that. You mourn with them. You suffer with them. You sit in the ashes alongside them and you shut up and you be whatever they need you to be.

Right now, we are a part of a global community that is suffering. Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad all had really bad weeks last week. People died and terror reigned for a while and it was not good. And they are not the only places. Syria has been in the grips of a years-long civil war that has left untold numbers dead and destitute. There were two earthquakes last week that left a path of destruction in major cities. There are still children being abducted and forced into soldiering and prostitution in Africa.

There is quite a lot of pain in the world. And yes, we absolutely should do something about it. But do you want to know how evil wins? Do you want to know how the terrorists win? (And I say both statements without a lick of sarcasm).

When we react out of fear and anger and frustration, we feed the fires of evil and brokenness. So before we act, before we engage these awful events in any way, let’s take a moment to sit shiva with those who are suffering. To be with them in the ashes, in the muck and mire of pain.

Then, after we’ve sat shiva, let’s tackle this together. Not out of a place of anger or fear, but out of a place of love and strength. Let’s seek to mirror together that perfect love of God that drives out all fear, and let’s start by joining Christ, our God-with-us, in the muck and mire of sitting shiva.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Revs. Metheran (or, "Confessions of Metheran-aholic)

Jess: We have been incredibly remiss about keeping up with our blog. We'll try to do better, if only for Brad Johnson's sake. :)

In the span of two weeks, Wes and I were both ordained (not that we're keeping track, but I was first). This is a goal that both of us have been working for for more than a decade. We entered college as theology majors, knowing that we would go to seminary afterward. When we got married, we almost immediately moved to New Jersey so that Wes could start seminary. Then it was my turn. Our married lives have always in some way revolved around our calling, our vocation.

And yet, being ordained--getting to be The Revs. Cain--is really just a beginning. Although we have been working toward this for years, although so much of our married life has been spent working out the details of being double seminary students, fitting in CPE and internship, when to move and when to stay, we are not done. While this was a goal, it was a goal with a purpose: serving God and serving others through ordained ministry.

To be ordained means to be "set apart." Methodists and Lutherans firmly believe that all of God's children (all the baptized) are called to live lives of faithful service. Being ordained means to be a servant leader, giving one's life over in service to God and others. Being ordained means being ministers of Word and Sacrament. We are called to study and learn, to teach and preach, to reach out into the world and do God's work. We are called to carefully use God's living word and God's gifts of bread, wine, and water. We are called to marry and bury. And through all this, we are called to point to God rather than ourselves, working for God's Kingdom rather than our own fame or gain.

Many people have asked over the years how Wes and I would be able to pull off being pastors in two different denominations. Now that we have arrived at this new beginning, we have reached what seems to be the easiest part of this journey so far. We no longer have to navigate the challenging waters of candidacy, we no longer have to tread lightly while honoring our commitment to this family, and we no longer have to take turns so that one of us could work while the other studied, etc.

The most difficult part is--and always has been--spending Sunday mornings apart. Not only are we challenged to truly worship while also leading worship. We are also challenged by missing our spouses, by lacking joint experiences of worshipping God. We are bound together and yet stretched apart, responsible for our own congregations as well as juggling an almost three-year-old. I doubt this will get any easier. However, I look forward to continuing to navigate this path together.

Wes: Forgive me readers, for I have failed you. It's been... I don't even know how long since my last blog post.

But today's topic is well known. I feel like I've talked about this a lot, but I'm going to share with y'all a truth from my inmost being. If you don't feel like we are close enough for secret-sharing, then I have two things to say to you:

1. Why are you taking my confession if you won't allow me to confess?

2. Please stop reading here. The following is only for those close enough to allow me to secret-share all over the place.

I can only assume that, since you are still reading, you and I are the best of friends, and what I am writing will probably not be any big unveiling for you. We're best friends, so you already know all of the skeletons in my closet. (The ones I stole from the biology classroom!)

But here it is anyway. My secret. You see, I have been pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church for a long time. Like the majority of my life, this has been my vocational goal. I have immersed myself in the life of the church, both local and connectional, joined (either by invitation or sheer force of will) different ministry teams and councils, endured a rigorous theological education to attain two pieces of card stock paper with my name and a degree written upon them (one of them in Latin!), and jumped through all of the fiery hoops of candidacy. And I'll be honest with you: my intentions were not always pure.

You see, clergy get special parking spots at hospitals.

That's right. I put myself through all the rigamarole of this process for a parking spot that might be a little bit closer than the public parking when I need to go visit people who are sick. Sure, most of them are my parishioners, and sure, I wouldn't need the parking spot if I had chosen a profession that didn't bring me to such a place on a regular basis, but that doesn't change the facts. And, included in the facts is the truth I have already stated in the above paragraph: special parking spots.

This might not be the only reason I felt that this was the calling for me, but it's somewhere up there. There was another reason as well, but then I found out that not all clergy get to wear Pope Hats. Apparently that's just... the Pope...

Oh well.

That's all the confessioning for now. Until next time, you stay classy, World Wide Web.

-jess and wes

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Breaking the silence

Jess: So I already have a blog written about miscarriage. I expect to write many more over the years because it is an experience that just doesn’t go away. But I just found out that this week in National Infertility Awareness Week. So let’s talk about that.

There are all kinds of ways to be infertile. You can simply be unable to conceive, period. You might only be able to have a baby with the help of a surrogate. You might only be able to reproduce through IVF. You may already have one or three or six children but have been actively trying to have another and its just not happening. Or you can get pregnant (easily or otherwise) only to have one or three or six losses.

Ever since losing our second child in October, I have been on several boards dedicated to connecting people who have experienced losses in pregnancy. I don’t know where I would be without that kind of support. And yet I had to actively seek out that support

Why are we silent about fertility issues? We are overjoyed when we get to share in new life. Yet we don’t know what to say to those who want, but cannot seem to produce, their own children. We don’t know what to say when we find out that our friends have been trying for over a year and cannot get pregnant. We don’t know how to respond when we find out our neighbors will never have children of their own. And we certainly don’t know how to comfort those who become pregnant only to miscarry, or have a stillbirth.

Approximately half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. At least one third of known pregnancies do not result in live children. This is not some rare disease or issue that affects a few people in every 100,000. It’s more common than the flu. And that’s not including those who are struggling with other infertility issues. When a loved one has the flu, we know how to respond: we are careful about our own hygiene, we bring them liquids, we allow them to rest.

How can we respond to those with infertility issues?
1) Listen. Listen if they want to share about infertility or not. Let them know that you are there. Sometimes talking about fertility challenges is impossible. I still get choked up talking about miscarriage. Listen to whatever they have to say.
2) Express your sympathy in writing. We received a handful of letters/notes from people after our miscarriage. Some people simply sent a gift with no note or reason. What a beautiful way to acknowledge our need for community and also our need for privacy.
3) Ask what the individual and family need. We have friends who had trouble conceiving who didn’t want to be around pregnant women. I cannot get enough of babies, even when I’m struggling with my own inability to have another. Figure out what they need and do your best to get it for them.
4) Continue to check in. My miscarriage was over six months ago. But the due date for that baby is only about 6 weeks away. I should be fat with child and miserable right now. Instead, I’m looking at June 15 with worry and sadness. Even when the due date passes, even if I get pregnant and have another child, the one who was supposed to be born on June 15, 2015 won’t be here. That date will feel much like the day my grandma died, or the day that I broke up with my high school boyfriend. The pain might ease with time but we will never get to know that child. For those struggling with infertility, each month without getting pregnant is a reminder. The pain is real and constant. Be there.

Wes: I don’t know much about anatomy and physiology. I don’t know really anything at all about biology. But I can honestly say that I know way too much about T.V.

Growing up, and even through college. I used to wonder why so many of my favorite shows had storylines at some point in their multi-season run that had something to do with having problems getting pregnant or with miscarriages. The one that comes to mind immediately is Scrubs. Turk and Carla try for so long to have a baby, and nothing seems to be happening the way it should. Carla wants Turk to be tested to see if something is wrong with his “swimmers”, but she wants to it secretly, because:

Carla is afraid that Turk will view a chanced infertility reading as an attack on his masculinity. And she’s right. He does:

Even Carla won’t talk about it with just anybody. She only broaches the subject with one person, her best friend. So embarrassing is this issue that it immediately makes one person feel like less of a man and the other feel like she has to act in secret.

And Scrubs is not alone in broaching this subject. Friends does it. Boy Meets World does it. Smallville. Lost.

The list goes on. And I couldn’t figure out why these shows would take airtime, budget, and entertainment risk to deal with such a… personal… and… rare… thing.

Then we miscarried.

And it was just awful. And in the midst of the pain, and in the midst of anger, and in the midst of the loss, I found myself thinking back to Turk, in his underwear, curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor. Rocking back and forth and questioning himself, the pain and the heartache present even in the midst of a comedy show.

And I can honestly say that I’ve never felt more thankful for courageous, real television.

There is a reason that these shows touch on such harsh, uncomfortable moments of life: because they are life. Problems of infertility and miscarriages are all around us. I am sure that if I were to take a blind survey of everyone in my community—and the people were to answer honestly—I would find that almost every family in Kyle has been impacted in some way by this issue, either personally or indirectly by someone close to them. I am sure that I would also find out that the majority of these families and individuals don’t talk about it at all, either because it is too painful, too embarrassing, or, more likely, a mixture of both.

But we have to talk about it. It’s life. And we are meant to live life in community. Strength is found in numbers, and by leaning upon the support and encouragement of others in our times of distress. Because the truth is that we are not alone in this pain, and it is time for us to stop acting as if we were.

Let’s learn a lesson from Scrubs. Let’s be courageous enough to talk about this, and find support in each other.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent, 2015 Edition

Jess: Lent is upon us. If you want to take two minutes to learn a little about Lent, here you go:

As the video states, fasting is a big part of what Lent is about. In the Roman Catholic Church, this means no meat on Fridays. In some traditions, it means literally fasting on certain days, in particular Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Many Christians have changed the meaning to fasting from something that holds an important place in their lives--chocolate, meat, swearing, judgment, etc. The point is to redirect our thoughts from those things that are not God. I have given up many things over Lent: junk food, TV, Facebook, etc. 

Increasingly, Wes and I have seen Lent as a way to establish good, faithful practices. During our marriage, we have...studied the Bible, gone through a marriage renewal book, established a Sabbath time, deliberately reduced our possessions, and refrained from spending money on non-essential items. Each of these practices was a recognition of how rich we are, how we are called to use our blessings to be a blessing to others, and to develop habits. Some of these habits have continued. There is still much work to be done, and we definitely have lapses. There are times when we find ourselves eating out several times a week; at this point, we reconsider what we are doing with what is God's. These practices remind us that we are stewards of everything God has given us. Nothing, not time, possessions, bodies, or even talents are ours--they are from God and are to be used for God's work. 

This year, I will be doing a combined Lenten discipline for the purpose of better using the time with which God has entrusted me. First, I will not be on Facebook until after James goes to sleep at night, if at all. I see Facebook as a great tool that has the potential to take over our lives. There is so much good that can come with interacting with others on social media--I have given and received advice, recipes, challenges, news, and much more. I want to hone in on that, rather than entertain myself with reading about other peoples' lives. 

Second, I will be consciously reinstating our Sabbath day on Saturday. This means no phones, no internet, and no homework. I won't be cleaning the house or doing laundry. Rather, I will focus on renewing my heart, mind, and soul and on being truly present with my family. The practice of Sabbath has been greatly beneficial to our lives. When I forget to practice Sabbath, I forget that six days is enough time in which to complete my work, and I start to convince myself that I need more and more time for work and less and less time for rest. 

Wes: Lent is a great time of prayer, study, and introspection. It is a reminder that from dust we came to dust we shall return. When used properly, it should work to refocus your life on Christ each year through intentional practices that may even continue after the season is over. 

This year, I am working to be more aware of how God has blessed my life with so many wonderful people. I am going to try to be more vocally grateful for this in general. As for a specific practice, I have decided to show my appreciation and gratefulness to God by writing a letter a day to different people from my past and present who have helped to make me the person that I am. There are many more than 40 of these people, so I am certain that some will be left out (so don’t get mad when you don’t get one). My hope in all of this, though, is to become a more outwardly-thankful person and to improve at telling people how much they mean to me and how my life is different because of them. 

I don’t have the greatest track record of keeping to my Lenten disciplines, but I’ll strive to stay on top of this one. For my sake, and for the sake of a God who has called me to engage all of creation with a thankful heart. 

So what are your plans for this Lenten season?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

2014 Year-End Review

2014 was a year filled with activity in the Cain household. We started off the year with a bang, celebrating with friends and then going off to celebrate our anniversary. In late January, Jess’ dad had surgery, so the whole family traveled up to the frozen tundra of Michigan. James and Jess spent two weeks helping to take care of Papa while he recovered. Although it was freezing the entire time and Papa had some struggles, we mostly had a good time. Jess hasn’t spent that much time with her dad in a row since I was in high school and lived with him. It was great to have a chance to be with him, and we have promised ourselves that we will visit more often. Plus, James loves Papa because Papa spoils his grandson.

During the rest of the late winter/early spring, we fell back into our regular routines. Momma and Daddy worked Monday-Thursday as well as Sunday. We all went to TLC for church on Saturdays, which was a nice time to have as a family. Jess’ internship progressed well and moved into the second half of that year. James got to spend the days with his Uncle Corbin, who lived with us through the beginning of May. It was really great to have child care in our home, and there are times when we wish we would have the funds to do that in the future. We could schedule the days/times we actually needed care. See, two pastors don’t have two 9-5 schedules, much less two matching schedules. It was nice to have someone who could be there at 8 some days, 10 others, and in the evenings on still others. James loved Uncle Corbin and getting to stay at home.

The spring got hectic quickly as Easter approached. We each had multiple services each week, and Holy Week was so busy that we had to have Jess’ mom come out and help us. No one complained about extra time with Grandma/grandson, though! Between the two of us, we had 10 services from Thursday night through Sunday morning. Five were on Easter itself. On top of the craziness of the week, Wes’ church was struck by lightening on the Monday of Holy Week. We’re certainly looking forward to the chance to not do that this year, and hopefully deal with a little less electric fallout!

As the rush of Easter faded away, we moved on to the summer activities. Jess headed up a retreat at TLC for the young families It was such a success that they are planning a second one this year that will be bigger and better! Both churches had VBS, and Jess attended Confirmation and elementary camp. Wes went to Annual Conference, a giant church meeting that happens every June, and Jess attended Synod Assembly, the same thing in the ELCA. James started a new day care with a lovely woman named Diana. It was not as convenient as having a live-in nanny but James loved Miss Diana, too!

Then, in July, our college friends were dealt a pretty painful blow. Our friend (and former nanny) Corbin committed suicide; we have a wonderful group of close-knit friends from college. When we gather (like at New Years’ Eve), we have at least 15 people every time, and we consider all of these very close friends. They’re the first ones to find out about important life events like engagements, new jobs, babies, etc. We have been together through a lot of ups and downs for the last eight years. Losing one of our own was extremely hard. Even six months later, we are still reeling—and honestly the group will never be the same without Corbin’s wit and pop culture knowledge. He was a wonderful man and will be dearly missed.

As we moved back into “normal” life, the summer began to wind down. Jess finished her internship with great joy and great sadness. Although she is still glad to be home with James each day, working at TLC was wonderful. Her internship was a great asset to her future in ministry and has honestly made her spoiled in terms of working on a staff! Wes finished his first year of residence in ministry in July, and is plugging right along toward ordination. James was overjoyed to get to spend every day with Momma, although he still points out Miss Diana’s house when we drive by.

The last few months of the year were packed with activity, as well. Wes’ church is going full-steam ahead, Jess completed her second-to-last-semester of seminary, and James turned two! Although his newfound independence, rapid growth, and vast intelligence can all be challenging at times, he is a sweet-hearted boy. He is sympathetic to those around him, whether people or animals. He knows all his letters, can count almost to ten, knows how to break through any toddler-protection device and LOVES TRUCKS AND TRAINS! We are constantly amazed and overjoyed to be his parents.

The fall also brought some tough times. Jess’ great-uncle was diagnosed with prostate cancer (making the cancer count 2 in less than a year for Jess’ family) and will be undergoing surgery in February. We discovered Jess was pregnant in October, only to find out that she had miscarried a few weeks later. We were devastated and will lament the loss of this precious baby. There was a lot of travel and James’ patience got stretched a few times.

Overall, the Cains had an interesting year. It has been one of the most challenging for all of us, and perhaps the most difficult in some ways since our marriage. Yet through it we have also become a closer-knit family. We have cheered for Wes as he has passed milestones in his ministry and worked to become healthier. We have celebrated with Jess as she was approved for ordination and moves closer to finishing school. We have jumped for joy with James as he has learned to walk, talk, and be an ever more independent person. Life will continue to throw curveballs at us, but we know that through faith and with each other, we can persevere and thrive. What a wonderful time to be the Cains!