dear daughter yet unborn, this world is so uncertain

Processed with VSCO with a8 presetdear daughter yet unborn,

today we’ve been together 38 weeks, you inside of me. and i know that soon i’ll see your face and press your soft skin against my own while we soak in the miracle of oxytocin, milk and tears that is promised us. i’m so excited for that. for YOU.

this pregnancy has been smooth and mostly easy. carrying you has felt light and joyful, in body and in spirit. but it’s been eventful, these last 9 months. it feels as though nearly every part of life has been put on the table and subject to reevaluation and upset while you float there warm and enveloped in waters and flesh.

your daddy and i have put all the pieces of our shared family life and marriage out there, sifting and sorting through it all, imagining new possibilities for how we make our life together. we’ve changed our roles, created new rhythms, busted out of boxes, and started some things we’re pretty proud of. we’ve found that we like splitting income-earning and parenting roles pretty evenly, and we hope that we can continue to arrange the pieces to make that possible, so that you get the best of both of us. we’ve been through another round of marriage counseling and emerged with a hope and depth we didn’t previously have. there’s been so much good fruit.

together with our friends and co-leaders the Coopers, we’ve taken every piece of what our ministry is and has done and have laid it on the chopping block, beginning an intentional and measured process of discerning together what God is actually asking of us as two healthy families on mission, and then fearlessly cutting off the parts that no longer fit or work. it’s been long — so much longer than we could have imagined — and emotional and challenging and also encouraging and clarifying and yet. yet it’s all still so very unsettled, at a time when i just want it all to be established. we don’t know what the implications will be for income or vocation, and if i’m honest i have a fair bit of anxiety about those unknowns, and what the outcomes will mean for our financial security, our sense of identity and the calling on your daddy’s life.

meanwhile, we the American people have elected a new president, and i did NOT see it (him) coming. his victory seemed only remotely possible, and so i will never forget the night i laid in bed watching the poll results roll in, at first confident and interested to see the first woman president be elected… and then stunned into near denial as the trend in the numbers shifted and it became evident that it would be Donald Trump that would be carrying away the title of President-Elect the next morning. and, my daughter, he is not what i would have hoped for this nation, he is not a leader i can point to with pride and confidence, happy to be welcoming a daughter into this world under his administration. in fact, there are so many things that his rise to power has stirred up in our country and in the church that at the moment it feels rather impossible to imagine how it will get sorted out into something that is okay again. i look to our King and Father and i think I can see how He is not alarmed or shocked, and that He has good purposes in spite of and through this development, but i believe that what lies ahead will be a sifting and a refining that will be both painful and long. we will be tested.

finally, my dear girl, a very personal dream has been birthed while you’ve been growing inside my womb. i will write to you more about this part later, as your name has significance in telling the story. but it’s about becoming a midwife, one who is with women through their childbearing year. it’s a calling and i’ve finally said yes to it, but the timing sure is funny, isn’t it? because you are coming — so soon! — and that poses certain limitations on taking next steps in pursuit of that calling. you will be one of my teachers and your birth and infancy will undoubtedly be part of my shaping as a midwife. i receive you joyfully in exactly your timing, yet another part of my spirit is absolutely chomping at the bit to get to work on my studies and apprenticeship, and i worry that it will be a dream deferred to the point of discouragement.

so, you see, little one, that there’s very little certain at the moment. the nest into which you will soon be born is shaky and ill-defined. i am praying that this won’t too significantly get in the way of labor beginning or your birth unfolding smoothly. i hope that i will be given eyes of faith, that my heart will rest in full confidence in the stability and unchangeable nature of the Father of Lights, the giver of all good gifts, who does not change like shifting shadows. I choose to rest in Him so that I can offer to you by His presence what I cannot offer out of my own flesh: a soft place to land, a secure fortress in which to hide, and a provision and protection that is sufficient.

i want to tell you, beloved girl, that you can come. i know i’ve told you to stay put until certain t’s are crossed and i’s dotted, but in this moment i tell you, you can come when you are ready. because as unprepared as i may feel, He is prepared for you, and I am leaning against His strong chest. you are so welcome here, and i will catch you.



What Sort of Midwife Will I Be?

worlfman-birth-8-14-16-115-of-305There are my kinds of midwives, each who have taken unique paths to become the sort of midwife that they are. Behind each sort of midwife there is a different philosophy, differences in training, and even more differences in the personality and natural inclinations of each midwife.

Because of my birth photography work, I’ve gotten to witness first hand many unique midwives at work. And they all amaze me. Midwives are incredible women who all have self-sacrifice, passion, and skilled hands as common characteristics, whatever other differences there may be between them. They’re also usually just really soulful, fun, and interesting people to spend time with, and I feel seriously SO lucky to get to be around them as often as I have been! I’m so encouraged to know that even in my mid-size city there’s a pretty good diversity of options for midwifery care. In Grand Rapids we have certified nurse midwives (CNMs) who work in hospitals, birth centers, and even homes. We have certified professional midwives (CPMs) who work in homes and birth suites. We have direct entry midwives (DEM) and lay midwives who work only in homes (and somewhat under the radar). Each one has a specific pregnant mama niche of women who need what she offers, and who will click with who she is. This diversity is awesome, because birthing women are diverse. For the entire community of midwives to be able to celebrate and champion what her sister-midwives bring to the table will only serve the greater good for all.

So as it comes time to make decisions about what sort of midwife I will become, and what path I’ll take toward that end, I want to be clear that I’m in no way making a claim to have found the best or most ideal path, nor chosen an option higher than the other options. I most sincerely do NOT believe that.

Rather, the path and type of midwifery I’m moving toward is “right” only insofar as it authentically lines up with my values/perspective, my personality and orientation to the world (an enneagram type 4, an INFP, a Christian) and the life experiences I’ve had (holistic health lifestyle, home births for all my babies, inner city ministry and community living, etc) and the training I’ve received that may serve me as a midwife also (a master’s degree in counseling, a health coaching certification from an integrative nutrition institute, years working for a naturopath/chiropractor, being a creative entrepreneur and a birth photographer) and even the life situation I am in (married to a pastor, raising 4 very small kiddos, living in the city). My job is to look at all those pieces listed above, plus the guidance of the good Shepherd with resolution toward obedience to it, plus the direction in which my heart leans… and to continue to walk in way that corresponds with all of that.

And here I’m about to get more technical than some will care to attempt tracking with, but my inclination is as such: to pursue a self-directed distance education program designed to adequately intellectually prepare me to sit for the NARM exam for certification as a professional midwife (if I decide to pursue certification at all, which is currently not legally required in MI), while also apprenticing under a second-generation midwife with the CPM credential, receiving my hands-on experience and in-the-moment learning from the wise  woman ways she is uniquely prepared to impart to me.


On a deep and intuitive level, apprenticeship-based midwifery training resonates with my core. It makes so much sense to me that elder midwives teach the younger ones through close, life-on-life “discipleship” over a myriad of experiences and across years. I’m excited to gain the kind of learning that only can come from watching and doing alongside someone practiced and passionate in her work, someone who learned her ways from the wise women with whom she herself once apprenticed in a similar fashion. Women have unique ways of knowing, and they possess secret insight into female health and birth that I frankly don’t believe men or science ever will fully “get.” So though I do not want to be dismissive of scientific study or evidence-based practices, I want to get a really healthy dose of the more womanly and intuitive way of transmitting knowledge, skills and wisdom!

Then, because I actually love book learning and research and desire to be fully equipped with vital information, I’m also going to apply for an educational program that will provide guidance and accountability as I wade through all the massive amounts of books and studies and information that there is to know. There will be text books, quizzes, exams, homework and all the trappings of “university study,” minus the degree. This more “traditional” education will be a great counter-balance to the apprenticeship. Between these two pieces, I feel like I’ll be given a beautiful training! It will work with my values, my style of learning, and my limitations and goals (both practical and financial), as well as utilizing existing relationships that I deeply value (as in the one I already have formed with the midwife who will be my preceptor/teacher and other midwives who have shown interest in and invested in my journey thus far).

And so in 5-8 years (??) I imagine emerging on the other side of that with a realization that has gradually sunk into my bones: that I have become in my heart and spirit a wise woman, a midwife… as well as possessing some standardized measurements to prove that I’ve acquired a certain standard of education.

What a feeling of accomplishment and joy it will be to walk forward into the world with those credentials — both tangible and intangible – and to offer it all up as a love offering to women and babies and their families, and to my Jesus.

I can’t wait.

But for now and for a long while yet, there’s the process. God give me patience for and delight in every step.

This is not an announcement

Processed with VSCO with a9 presetTypically announcements are made when something practical or tangible has already happened, like “we bought a house” or “our baby has been born” or “i just got a new job” or “we’re engaged!” This doesn’t fall into the practical/tangible category.

And yet, it feels like something worth announcing. Or maybe it’s more like declaring a college major, or setting an intention.

In any case, here it is:

I intend to become a midwife.

If you want to read some long and soul-searching details about how thing have gotten to this point, please read on.

For those who want cliffs notes, here are they are: I’ve been a birth junkie for years, and finally God brought it to the forefront and asked me to own the desire in my heart that I’d been trying to deny. My family and I are trying to sort out the timing and details of what pursuing this will look like. It will involve, I hope, a combination of apprenticeship and self-paced distance education. I haven’t taken a single practical step yet, nor made a single commitment, but I’ve explored options and hope to start SOMETHING within the next year. 🙂

Now, the long version (for those with interest and time to read)….

Continue reading

On Adding #4

4th-baby-announcement-1Earlier this week we heard for the first time the sweet sound of a strong, steady and easily-located heartbeat. The heartbeat of baby #4.

With a 4th baby we are leaving the classification of “average family size” and stepping into the classification of “big family.” And yes, we made that move intentionally. Truthfully, if you’d told me 10 years ago that I would be the mama of a big family I would have disbelieved it, would not even have thought I wanted it.

There is a not-tiny list of reasons that I may be an unlikely candidate to be such a mama. Like the fact that I didn’t even get started until I was 31. The fact that I never really much cared for kids or that I myself am 1 of 2 with all the privileges inherent therein also seem to set me up for NOT having a large family. Or the facts that I’m introverted and moody and melancholy (mothering as an enneagram type 4 has it’s own set of hardships) and have been seriously grieving since becoming a mother the loss of personal space and sense of unique identity I once found in long stretches of solitude and reflection, and that I’m easily overwhelmed and can feel like I’m drowning in monotonous ordinariness.

I’m not naive. I know (as much as one CAN know, I suppose) what we’re getting ourselves into here. I know how much harder it will be to get us all out the door for any given activity, how many more messes there will be and how many more spats and discipline moments. I am sadly aware that getting a babysitter is going to be more challenging and more costly than ever before. I know it is about to get even harder to find a little space to be alone. I realize that our grocery budget is going to suffer, that the laundry piles are about to get even more huge, and that we’re going to spend a lot of our income on kid-related things. I know that I just postponed the return of my “freedom” by a few more years. I know that it’s going to be hard work having 4 kids so close together.

But I also know this: that Tim and I both had a strong sense very shortly after Walter was born that there was one more person meant to be added to our family. It wasn’t even so much about “one more baby”, cute and squishy as they are, as it was this spiritual knowing that our family wasn’t complete quite yet. I began to experience an odd phenomenon that a friend had told me about, in which during moments of gathering all the kids together for a meal or a departure, I’d still feel like I was missing one, even when all 3 were accounted for. There is supposed to be one more. Knowing that, and not having any felt need to micromanage precisely WHEN that fourth child would be created, we simply abstained from using prevention, leaving the timing in the hands of nature and God. So in the month of March, between the birthdays of our boys, this baby was conceived. He/she is deeply wanted.

It helps to take the long view. I imagine 15 or 20 years from now, who will be sitting around our dining room table for family meals? Ever since I began this exercise, I have imagined that number to be 3 or 4 adult children plus their friends/spouses. I know that between here and that happy picture of a table full of wonderful adult children whose company I delight in there will be a sh*t load of work and plenty of really hard days and many tears of frustration and heartbreak and desperation. But I’m fully convinced that it will be worth it.

These 4 are my disciples, so may God make me faithful to mother them well and to show them Jesus in spite of all my personal liabilities and sin patterns and quirks. I’m trusting that the building of a family is ultimately and unavoidably God’s work and that He knows exactly what He’s doing here. For reasons I may not EVER fully know, I am the best mother for these children, and we’ve been put together for purpose.

So let’s do this, as Tim says. 🙂

each season the hardest, each season the same


each season feels like the hardest one. i remember when hazel was brand new, and how utterly in over my head i felt. the learning curve was so steep. i was grieving the loss of independence, freedom to use my time as i pleased, space to be alone with myself. and i had no idea what i was doing, so no action was simple or natural. the weight of concern and worry, with all the accompanying advice-seeking and google-searches, was exhausting. leaving the house felt like the most impossible thing. how was i supposed to plan an outing between all the naps and feedings (which were, in here case, LONG)?

this season now, and those early days with hazel feel so far away. i sometimes think that if i could go back and re-live them, it would feel easy compared to now. i would handle it like a pro, i would be so much more laid back. maybe that would be the case, if i could carry the knowledge/tricks/confidence i’ve gained in the three following years with me and apply them there, too. but that’s not how it works, is it? of course not.

Father breaks us in easy, giving us one challenge at a time, taking us deeper and deeper into responsibility and commitment. if He were to throw us right into it, we would surely drown. Or so it seems to me.

looking back even further than new motherhood, to the days when i was a young adult and single, how simple that all looks from where I now stand. bills were few and simple, taxes straightforward, freedom to use and structure my own time was enormous, i could accomplish things in a fraction of the time it now takes with small children in tow, all my decisions were my own to make (no need to seek consensus with a husband), and my parents would still help me out financially. i could have gotten up and gone to do anything with such comparative ease (travel, move, adventure). but at the time it didn’t feel so easy! there was also loneliness and longing for a mate, worry about not having enough money even for the few bills that i did have, and the downward-spiraling thoughts that often filled up all those solitary and unstructured hours. there weren’t children to anchor me, to make me get up in the morning and do the next thing that needed doing, and being single was like facing the world alone, not knowing when or if that aloneness would ever end. and though i didn’t have kids underfoot to sabotage my cleaning and cooking and errand running, i also was still learning how to cook and clean and run errands, which sometimes made me feel so young and inexperienced.

as scripture says, “each day has enough trouble of it’s own.” that’s meant to remind us not to worry also about the future, but i see it working retroactively, too: yesterday had enough of its own worries, too. there will always — in every life season — be heavy concerns, and loads to bear that feel too heavy at times. there will be moments of overwhelm. and, in each life season there will be provision. there will be enough of the internal resources, the support of community, and material needs. there will be enough of these things, coming forward as they are needed, because across all of these life seasons the one constant thing is the Father to whom we’ve entrusted ourselves.

so TODAY, when the challenges of a feisty, cooped-up 3 year-old and a 21-month-old who’s stumbling into his terrible 2s while teething his molars, combined with my achey, cumbersome, pregnant body on a gray day, with to-do lists a mile long and a house that feels impossibly messy but cannot be tended to because the children’s needs are so unrelenting and my body in such a state… today when cooking yet another meal and doing yet another load of laundry feel absolutely unrewarding and mundane… today when I feel so isolated from the comfort of close female friendships because the urgency of daily life squeezes out most of the opportunities to connect… today when our list of financial responsibilities is longer and more complicated than i could have imagined or navigated when i was 24, and when the upkeep of a house and the oversight of a nonprofit and the managing of my own business keep our minds racing into the night…. today when the challenges of being a wife with all the mutual submission, vulnerability practice, and intimacy to keep up feel like harder work that the romance movies ever would have led me to believe… TODAY there will be enough. TODAY my Father is with me, leading me gently because I am with child (Isaiah 40:11), providing for my every need out of his glorious riches (Phil 4:19).

and so for you, friend. whether you are in your early 20s, living with friends and trying to discern the trajectory of your life while avoiding being turned out on the street, or whether you are a new mother absolutely drowning in the enormity of that identity redefinition and the weight of a newborn’s constant need, or whether you are in your mid-life, about to see your youngest child off to college and suddenly there is a giant gaping hole that invites you to redetermine how you will spend the rest of your days… in all these seasons, He is sufficient, He is present, He is neither shocked nor dismayed at how things are going, and He waits to show you mercy.

in memorium :: kevin

kevin, a few years ago when i first met him.

kevin, a few years ago when i first met him.

when i met kevin, he was dapper: clean-shaven, well-manicured, proudly and uniquely dressed, and sauntering confidently around the neighborhood. he loved to talk. and he never hid anything. i remember sitting with him in the boiler room yard one day as he told me about his father’s abandonment, his intense love for his mother, the abuses he had suffered, the homosexuality he owned, the disease he contracted, and the alcoholism he struggled with. i can write this here because if you met him, he would tell you all of it, too.

so here we are, a church. and the church has been many things to men like Kevin, but warm and embracing has not typically been one of them, sadly. yet with us he somehow found a sense of safety and belonging. he knew we loved him, no matter what.

over the next few years we watched him get painfully thin, fall into despondent depression as his mother neared the end of her life and he couldn’t imagine going on without her. he stopped taking his life-sustaining medications, and he stopped eating. he stopped bathing and taking care of himself at all. he developed sores at the corners of his mouth, a glazed over look in his eyes, and a unique odor. in this season, to continue to offer loving touches and nearness were hard for me.

and then, he nearly died. or rather, he DID die. but on that hospital bed, having been declared dead, he saw Jesus. Jesus didn’t say anything, just met his eye and pointed the way back. and then Kevin wasn’t dead anymore. i cannot explain this.

but when Kevin came back, he gave His life to Jesus. he decided he wanted to live the second half of his life differently than the first half. he got healthy again. he started to have hope. he did so much hard work as he bravely and intentionally chose to forgive the many people who had abused and wronged him through his life, getting lighter all the time. he chose to be kind to his housemate, whom he had traditionally been rather mean to. he surrendered his entire heart to Jesus to be shepherded, including his sexuality, because when he asked God what He wanted Him to handover, that was was the answer he heard. there was fruit in keeping with repentance, as the scriptures say. and then Kevin asked if we would baptize him, which we did, on a Wednesday evening in the boiler room yard. it was a holy moment.

about to be baptized. october 2014.

about to be baptized. october 2014.

"kevin, you are the Father's son, and He is pleased with you!"

“kevin, you are the Father’s son, and He is pleased with you!”

exactly one week later, at the age of 42, he had a stroke. and that stroke, with all it’s complications, took his life before the day was through.

there were many tears running down the faces of our Love Feast family, who had heard word on the street throughout the day that Kevin was dying, and then came to our gathering to find that he had passed already. all those tears bear testimony to how he impacted us.

i wasn’t able to get to the hospital in time to say goodbye to him. but if i had, i wanted to tell him in a conspiratorial whisper, “this time, Kevin, you don’t have to turn around and leave when you see Jesus. you get to STAY.” holy smokes, how lucky he is.

but how he will be missed. i was looking forward to seeing him grow up and mature as a Christian, into the fullness of the man he was made to be. i was looking forward to more years bearing witness to his rambling and gut-honest story-telling prayers.

his funeral is this saturday, and Jordan will conduct the ceremony. next wednesday at Love Feast we’ll have a little memorial for him, too.

in memorium :: derek lee, gentle giant

derek helps prepare the food cart to serve love feast

derek helps prepare the food cart to serve love feast

on the street he was also known as Skillet (he loved to cook and feed people, and everyone knew it) or Green Mile (he sorta resembled the main character in the movie by the same name, at least in size, and in gentleness).

as i write this post, he is close to breathing his last breaths, as he will be disconnected from life support any minute now. it was only last week that he was walking among us, his oxygen tank trailing reluctantly behind him, but his face still full of life and humor. he was always the first one to jump at the chance for the open mic, and he had a few numbers that he performed regularly at our weekly LoveFeasts, while all the crowd clapped their hands and grooved along. He was proud of his big, deep voice, and i loved to hear it. i can hear it still.


yesterday in the early morning hours he suffered a stroke. but it was worse than just that. there was also systemic infection, blood clot in brain, and internal bleeding with unknown source. when i went to the hospital to see him, his gentle giant body was perfectly still, tangled up in an impossible number of wires and tubes and machines. every once and a while his eyes would open, but it wasn’t clear how much he was registering. i sat with his fiance and made her eat some dinner i’d fetched from the cafeteria. in that uniquely self-conscious way that accompanies speaking to someone who is not cognizant, i went to his side, laid my hand on his large black one, and talked to him about the days when he lived in the boiler room and cooked so many terribly greasy things in the deep frier, then turned around and teased me for cooking so much “healthy stuff” when it was my own turn behind the stove. i told him how much i liked hearing him sing at Love Feast. i told him that i’ve actually come to like bacon grease a lot recently, and could he believe that? i blamed it on the pregnancy, the pregnancy that he so boldly and unapologetically inquired about before i was really even telling anyone the news. he wasn’t the king of subtly. 🙂

before i went, i prayed with him and his fiance, through tears i did not expect, both mine and hers. they came when i told him how loved he was, what a valuable member of our family and our church he had become, and how hard it was to see him suffering. i wanted to pray for God to grant him new life on the other side of this, to bring him through singing and dancing once more (he is only about 50 years old, afterall), but in my bones, i knew he would be leaving us. so i prayed mostly for a release of the shalom and presence of Christ in that room, and over Derek’s body. and in my own heart, i pleaded that even now, in this late hour of altered consciousness, that Holy Spirit would show Derek how to believe in Christ for his salvation. because i’m sorry to say this — almost ashamed — but after 6 years of knowing this man, i have never directly asked him where he stood with Jesus. and suddenly, this mattered so very much, but was too late to discuss. God, have mercy.

and now today. my husband is sitting with him and his gathered friends and his family who had to make the hard, hard call that no one ever wants to have to make: to pull the plug. and he will be gone before this afternoon has ended. which means that i will never get those gentle hugs or kindly teasing from that giant brother again.

but he will be finished — for i am casting my vote on my Papa’s love and mercy — finished with chronic sickness, with the temptation and ensnarement of addictions, and with the hardships of poverty.

me and derek at a love feast in 2009

me and derek at a love feast in 2009