How to Live Mindfully From the Couch

I read a piece from the NY Times the other day about how gratitude practices have evolved to really just be self-help nonsense.  That we’ve turned the gratitude exercises from motivating us to share and help others to narcissistic-feel-better-about-yourself-without-doing-anything mumbo jumbo. 2008-01-01 12.31.54

Well they’re partially right.  There is a superficial nature to some of them.  Random sayings embroidered on pillows about embracing life or following your bliss don’t really help us in any practical way.  And they don’t help anyone else either.  (Truth be told I actually have a pet peeve for cheesy sayings pasted on walls or t shirts).

But there is a science to gratitude.  “gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).”

And gratitude has been shown to improve mental health and wellness.  And do you know what happens when women have improved mood, self-esteem, and mental health?  They not only have better physical health, but so do their families. In short, finding gratitude motivates us towards expressing gratitude in the world around us, and therefore makes the world a better place.  Here’s your formula: Gratitude for Mama = Happier Planet.

In short, finding gratitude motivates us towards expressing gratitude in the world around us, and therefore makes the world a better place.  Here’s your formula: Gratitude for Mama = Happier Planet.

I have been trapped in bed for weeks.

With a toddler and a grumpy husband who is slowly recovering from the most challenging academic semester of his life.  I’m 457 weeks pregnant with twins.  We’re moving tomorrow 4 hours away to be closer to his PhD program (and farther away from the budding birth center that I have been – until now- a part of building.  A lifelong dream of mine.) It’s -4 degrees outside. Did I mention that we all have had a head cold for over 6 weeks? THis particular virus responds to no amount of echinacea/vitamin c/homemade elderberry/neti pot/EOs/bone broth.  Nor the the antibiotics I finally caved in and tried a week ago in an act of desperation despite my obsession with healthy bacteria during pregnancy.

I say all of this not to complain or self-depricate but to prove my point: gratitude grows in strange places with faith; and in fact, it’s these places where it is needed the most.

I am living mindfully from the couch.

It’s not that I don’t think negative things.  There have been several occasions (ok, more than several) where I have cried into my husband’s shoulder “I give up, I can’t do it’.  He once found me in the bathroom with the lights off crying by myself, hiding from my cranky toddler (he had been gone for 3 hours).  But I believe that God is the God of the darkness and the light; the pain in the night and the joy in the morning.  And I believe that in limitations creativity begins to thrive.

“gratitude grows in strange places with faith; and in fact, it’s these places where it is needed the most.”

 

When Walls Become Doorways: Creativity and the Transforming Illness is a great book about the lives of so many beautiful artists that were limited by their illnesses and had to use creative ways to not only make art, but that the making of the art became their only way to convalesce.

My yoga practice is my favorite healing tool.  But my serious Symphysis Pubis Discomfort and consistent braxton hicks have left me with about 4 poses that are accessible (legs up the wall, cat/cow, child’s pose and heart melting pose).  And sometimes moving between them can cause me to wince in pain (though once I arrive the relief is wonderful.)  I can journal and knit and thankfully meet with clients on the phone, but I can’t cook nourishing foods, I sometimes have to ask for help to get out of the bathtub, and taking a walk is out of the question.

So what to do?   Create a new way to be mindful, to have gratitude, to praise God in a dark night of discomfort that things are growing and will eventually bloom in unexpected and awe-inspiring ways.

There will be a spring!

I breathe.  A LOT.  I rely heavily on my husband (and also my closest friends) which has brought us to many new points of understanding and love.  I read to my toddler and I knit and read and pray.

Here are my tips if you are in a season of needing to live mindfully from your “couch”.  (i.e. you need to get creative with tools for understanding and expressing gratitude):

  1. Breathe.  Nothing brings stability and humility like a cleansing breath.  A warming or cooling breath.  A deep, deep breath that reminds you you’re alive and all is well for 2 seconds.
  2. Whatever yoga practice you can do, do.  Moving the body in meditation is so pwerful and healing.
  3. Pray.  Rely on the holy spirit to lead you through your season of seeming dryness to the next season of reaping joy.
  4. Surrender.  This is in fact my bhavana for the year.  (Don’t know what that is?  Join the Virtual Mama Wellness Circle every month and find out!) There is so much beauty in the art of surrender and I learning that in small, painfully beautiful steps.
  5. Be grateful.  You can be grateful from anywhere.

 

Need help with your Mama Wellness Journey?  I’m here.  Let’s meet and get you the tools you need to create a deeper level of wellness.

R & R (Rest and Receive)

rest and receive mom meditation

This was the first time I felt helpless as a mom.  Fiona is 9 months old-ish and we’ve been super blessed with a more-than-we-could-have-asked for pregnancy and birth.  We’ve made a lot of conscious decisions to make my pregnancy and birth as low stress, un-interfered with as possible, and her first 9 months on the outside low-key, breastfed and worn in a wrap. So I’ve been a bit spoiled on the mom-front.  And I know it. 

 We decided to go home to Philadelphia for Christmas, like we always do.  I had this ominous feeling as we were packing our bags.  I don’t know why.  I usually get so excited to travel, excited for Christmas.  But my intuition was chafing at me. The day after we arrived Fiona started acting weird.  She threw up a few times, had a low grade fever, wouldn’t let anyone else hold her, was drooling and chewing, would sleep a lot and then not sleep at all.  She seemed to get better for a day and then get sick again.  I spent Christmas Eve candlelight service in my grandmother’s living room because, unlike her usual self, she was hysterical in the car ride.  The thing that put me over the edge was our drive to Christmas dinner, she developed a rash everywhere and threw up three times.  We immediately tried Pediatric Urgent Care, who apparently doesn’t take Blue Cross Blue Shield, and drove to the ER.

If you know anything about me, I may be the only person who chose to become a doula that really hates hospitals.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate nurses and doctors, I just hate the system.  The dingy cold linoleum, the hotel art, the flourescent lighting that might give me a brain cloud (Joe vs. the Volcano anyone?).  I hate that I have to tell 17 people the same story, and they all do one thing and then leave.  I hate that it takes 4 hours to do what should take 30 minutes.  I hate it.

So there we were.  And that’s when I started to cry.  I had a sinus infection and was exhausted.  Fiona clearly wasn’t well.  I had stupidly chosen to wear that beautiful Anthropologie dress that I practically have to take off to nurse her and high heels. It was all too much.  It’s one of those moments when you’re too tired to even ask God for help, you just sit there, cry and whisper in your heart “I just don’t know….”

So Bryan turned off the lights and shut the glass door, I sat back on the gurney with Fiona and covered her with my coat, her head on my heart.  And we started to quietly sing. It is well with my soul, Great is Thy Faithfulness, O Holy Night.  I don’t even remember, they just circulated and buzzed and poured out of us.  Quietly turning an ER room into a small place of worship.  “Doesn’t the atmosphere feel different already?” Bryan asked after a few minutes.  I nodded, tears still rolling, and we continued to sing.

Thankfully, Fiona is well.  They had no more insight into the situation than I had, and we’re home safe and sound.  We were talking about our vision for 2015 this week and decided that we would like to choose one theme passage of scripture for each month to meditate on as a family. When I was thinking about January, the word that the spirit kept speaking was rest.  “How?” I wanted to say.  “I’ll rest when my business meets my income goals.  I’ll rest when Fiona is well.  I’ll rest when this sinus infection is gone.  I’ll rest when we’re home.  I’ll rest when the holidays are over.   I’ll rest when….”

And he said, “Now.”

And gave me this passage.  It landed on my head last night like a giant piece of New Year’s confetti.  (The bold and italics are mine):

“When the Promises Are Mixed with Faith
For as long, then, as that promise of resting in him pulls us on to God’s goal for us, we need to be careful that we’re not disqualified. We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn’t do them a bit of good because they didn’t receive the promises with faith. If we believe, though, we’ll experience that state of resting. But not if we don’t have faith…
 
God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as todayAnd so this is still a live promise.
 
It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience. God means what he says. What he says goes. ” ~Hebrews 4
This is our January meditation, to focus on the peace and rest.  What kind of year will we have if we rely on our own abilities to do things? If we confuse the power of the spirit with our own power?  Instead, I want to receive the promises with faith.  And let God take care of the rest.
“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.” ~Psalm 127:2

What happens if you don’t do it?

Well, hello there beautiful mama.  Thanks for joining me today.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably following me, and you probably don’t need to be told the benefits of natural birth (or unmedicated birth to be more specific).  You don’t need me to tell you that the “less is more” adage applies to birth in an almost black and white sense.  That with each intervention from the tiniest gesture or statement to the surgical scalpel, birth becomes less of a normal occurrence, less of an empowering experience in a mama’s life.

I don’t need to tell you…

I don’t need to tell you that there are unknowns in birth, and that what happens during birth will in fact affect you and baby – one way or another.

So what happens if you do nothing?  What happens if you know all this, think about it, check off the boxes on the hospital “birth plan” checklist, and show up when labor surges start?  What’s really missing?

You may even be asking yourself, “Sandra, I’m a Christian mama.  I have faith that all will be well, why should I bother planning anything?”

Aha!  I know this feeling!  To you, I say, because, we are stewards of all areas of our life – our health, our finances, our children. I know you think it’s important to research and choose wisely how you spend your time, your money, your food.  I know that you are intentional about all these things, and birth should be no different.

Plan With Faith

We are constantly in a state of compromise between planning and praying.  We live in the natural world of consequences and the spiritual world of supernatural miracles all at the same time.  We navigate these by seeking guidance from the holy spirit and stepping out in action-faith.  Faith without deeds is dead.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” ~James 2

If we have faith but we do nothing, we are stagnant.  Likewise if we are action takers but never rely on faith to stretch us beyond what we can do, we are stagnant or dead.

So when it comes to birth we need to consciously choose.  We need to say “hey, God works out all things for the good of those who love him, and I believe that even if crazy circumstances arise, there will be a holy healing and redemption.”  We need to decide to go against the flow of our culture – to shame or hyper- sexualize our bodies; to take the God-given power of bringing life earth-side and hand it over to a stranger; to give into fear, close our eyes, hold our breath and hope the whole thing is over soon.

No!  We were created and designed for so much more than that!  We were designed to rely on the power of the spirit and conquer the fears and lies and doubts. To live in the freedom God created for us.

“God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” Psalm 46:5

The World Needs You

Sarah Bessey wrote in Jesus Feminist “By naming after this aspect of his character [ezer kenegdo], God did not name women as secondary helpmeet assistants.  No friend, women were called out and created as warriors….If we minimize our gifts, hush our voice, and stay small in a misguided attempt to fit a weak and culturally conditioned standard of femininity, we cannot give our brothers the partner they require in God’s mission for the world.”  I invite you to intentionally create an amazingly large vision for pregnancy, birth and motherhood and to walk into these seasons of life with the courage of a warrior created by God.  A warrior princess – with all the beauty and bravery bestowed upon you.  God called you to this task, and so he equips you to carry it out – whatever that looks like for you.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~ Galations 1:10

Who cares what your friends think?  What your doctor thinks?  What your mother thinks?  This is your moment.  Let’s be honest, none of those people are birthing this specific child, at this specific time.  You are.  This is your mission and yours alone.  Own it! Enjoy it!  Take it up and pursue the best God has for you in it without hesitation! Don’t get me wrong, you will need others.  You will need a circle of support around you, a tribe.  But be selective about who you choose in your birth world.  Who’s voice you allow into this sacred space.  Because right now, this is your mission and you need the sacred protection of totally supportive people around you.

Let me help you mama, it can be done. Let’s do this.

Zwischen, Seasons, and What on Earth to Do Now?

“There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth…” Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’m about 6 months pregnant right now, sitting in my apartment in a small town in Minnesota, where we’ve lived for about five months. It’s starting to feel like home a bit.  

This season has been difficult for me, being pregnant on a move from Virginia to Minnesota and moving from the city (Philadelphia), to suburbia (in Virginia) to a rural town (in Minnesota) all within two years time has been quite a challenge.  Adjusting to life in a new community involves more than just getting used to the idea that if I want some decent restaurant food I’ll have to drive an hour (if I want some pad thai, make that more like 3 hours.  I’m totally serious.)  It involves finding new friends, a new place to grocery shop, a new church, where the gas stations are, where you can buy some essential oil last minute, where you can get a good cup of coffee (also an hour away), and where to take a yoga class. 

Transitions in life can be challenging, we so often want to either hold on to what we just came from, or skip ahead to the next season.  We mistakenly believe that the next season (or the previous one) will hold less challenges than the one we are currently in.  We romanticize the past, we romanticize the future, we compare our present to what we know of other people’s present circumstances and wish for something different.  

When you look for it- you can see this creep up in life.  When I was 16 I could not wait to get my driver’s license.  I thought it would make my life complete.  When I got my license, I couldn’t wait to turn 21, “If only I could hang out at cool bars,” I thought “I’ll really be a grown up.”  I envied people in college before I got there and people who had graduated once I arrived.

Joyce Meyer likes to say “new level, new devil”.  Isn’t it true?  Each time you get a spiritual breakthrough, the enemy sets his sights on some other area of your life.  Everyone is dealing with a devil in some area, everyone has a challenge no matter what season of life they are in.  But God is doing something amazing in each season as well, and if we’re focused on the next thing, we’ll miss the joy in the now. 

During pregnancy, this can be particularly apparent.  Some of us wanted so badly to be pregnant, maybe even waiting years for this opportunity, and then it arrived and it seemed to drag on forever.  A doctor or midwife gave you a “due date”, and it feels like an expiration date looking on the horizon.  As it approaches you’re more and more anxious to meet your little one (and you should be!) But the current season seems to be uncomfortable, taking longer than you feel like it should, or feel like you can stand. 

This is partially responsible for our induction rate, which leads to our high cesarean rate.  We’ve forgotten that seasons take time, and that for each individual that length of time will be different.  T.D. Jakes likes to say “we’ve got a slow cook God”.  My husband has been reminding me of this lately, during particularly challenging pregnant moments, when I feel as though I’d like to take my uterus off and take a break for awhile.  We have a God that likes to do things in timing we don’t fully understand, who sees a much larger picture than we do, who wants to create new things in us, for us and through us and we can’t necessarily see that as it occurs. 


The time at the end of pregnancy is the in-between-time. The German word zwischen, which means between, is perfect for describing this waiting period. Somehow, a week that feels so short when we’re on vacation or when we’ve still got Christmas shopping to do, becomes interminably long.  (It doesn’t help that our culture has put it in our heads that being 42 weeks is past due, you’re not overdue until you’re past 42 weeks!)

 “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”


It can be difficult to find ways to be present in the season, to see what God’s doing right now and around you, and to find the blessings in disguise.  

Some ways that I have found helpful:

Prenatal meditation.  I’ve taken a hypnobirthing class so we got the CDs for free, but you can order the book and CDs online right here. Connecting with your baby, visualizing birth, and truly experiencing breath not only brings relaxation but helps prepare you for the big event.  It’s great for your physical and mental health, as well as baby’s.  I highly recommend every pregnant mama do some form of prenatal meditation. 

 Baths. I have just accepted that at the end of every day, I will take time for a bath.  By the evenings my pelvis and lower back start to feel as though no position will be comfortable.  The only thing that works is hydrotherapy, being in a warm bath.  Add some lavender oil and rest.  It takes more time than a shower, it’s less convenient, but for me it has become a necessity.  And I’ve found that I use this time to pay attention to what little Fiona is doing in my belly, I pray over her, and sing to her.  It’s become a little ritual and it wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t uncomfortable!

 Journaling.  I know every blogger tells you to journal your pregnancy, and for those of you who don’t go through mountains of notebooks and pens, this can feel like a chore.  But it might be just the thing to help you stay focused on the blessings and the journey of pregnancy.  This can be the place you complain about every tiny thing, express each and every fear.  But it should also be the place you find gratitude.  Start each entry (no matter how frequently or infrequently you write) with a list of three things you are grateful for that day. I am always surprised by this practice.  On some days when I think I will have nothing to say, I end up writing three pages of what I’m grateful for and forget what was aggravating me in the process.  It’s a spiritual principle, really.  

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Phillipians 4:8 

What are some ways that you’ve found to be present?  To stay in the season with the joys and challenges it faces?

Redeeming Childbirth…What does Christianity have to do with birth?


“On one side you have the women in the church who are labeled as extreme. They are accused of being judgmental women who stubbornly hold to the perspective that home births are spiritually superior; some might even say, “You must not be a strong Christian unless you have a home birth.” On the opposing side you have the women who don’t look much different than the rest of today’s culture. They view pregnancy and birth as a burden to be avoided, even an ailment. They may not say it, but they focus on the limitations that come with pregnancy and fear birth more than the bless- ings. Unfortunately, the judgment is thick and destructive on both sides.” 

This is part of the opening chapter of Redeeming Childbirth, a new book, written by a mother of six, about her experiences in childbirth and how her relationship with God became closer and her relationships with the people around her became more enriched through her birthing.  She found that the same way God redeems everything, he is redeeming birth for women in this country.  Does it need to be a scary experience, shrouded in fear and shame, focused on avoiding pain and getting it over with?

Angie says no.  And I agree with her.  This is a topic that has been near and dear to my heart as I have done my doula work.  What role does my faith have in my work?  What role will it have in my life as a mother?  How do I share my strength that comes from Jesus with these women I am honored to work  with?

“We are a blessed nation and people, but we need perspective. The prosperity we enjoy has led to an entitlement mentality that has crept into our Christian homes and churches. This attitude of selfish indulgence breeds ideas in us that we shouldn’t have to experience hardships or trials in life.” 


“…through the intensity of childbirth we can become better prepared for a lifetime of laboring in love for our children. It is the beginning of a journey for a woman growing into motherhood.


The message of Redeeming Birth is hope. This book aims to release women from the destructive and cancerous fear around childbirth in America. 


10% of the proceeds are being donated to midwifery clinics and birth centers! There are free downloads on the website, including Reflective Journaling Questions. 

This book written with passion, personal experience, and a strong belief in God and his love for women is a wonderful new addition to the birth book collection.  I highly recommend any woman of faith or any woman experiencing fear around pregnancy and birth to order a copy. I was encouraged and I think you will be to!



Order your copy: