Hello again. How have you been, friend? Things have been pretty good in the Bender household this past week, Praise the Lord! Jim and I are always so thankful when we have a few days in a row without too much craziness on top of the typical appointments and daily grind. Lately Alan has been sleeping well (from 8:30 pm to 6:30 am with maybe just 1 or 2 cry spells, no feedings!), cooing and being incredibly cute and responsive! He doesn’t see extremely well, but he can see and has been making better eye contact and responding to being talked to and sung to lately.
So that’s our current praise report. But I wanted to address something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The hardest times. The times in life when things aren’t pretty and when your resolve, even your sanity, are being tested. Why this topic? It’s not particularly “likeable,” I know. I’m choosing this topic because I’m coming to realize more and more how important it is to be able to endure hardship with the right attitude, and that this endurance and ability to love and trust God even when your stress level is through the roof is key to being truly useful to Him.
I want to share two main lessons God has been teaching me since Alan was born that have helped me tremendously. The first lesson is one on surviving a time of tremendous stress and lack of sleep and self care.
Any mom of a newborn needs to be able to survive days, weeks, even months where your stress level is high and where time to care for yourself is low to nonexistent. This is the period of life where the best you can hope for is a few hours of sleep here and there and just enough time to shovel food into your mouth a few times a day. The rest of your time is committed to caring for your baby and any other children you may have.
As if this is not hard enough, being the mom of a premature baby, a special needs baby, a baby with medical issues, or all three, is even harder. I know I haven’t experienced the worst case scenario because Alan had no major medical issues at birth other than being small and having high bilirubin. He never needed much assistance breathing and he always had a strong heart. He did, however, have feeding issues from birth and seizures that started at 5 months. We finally figured out that he needed his milk thickened at about 4 months, after several months of dysfunctional feedings where he was coughing and spilling the milk I had pumped all over himself at every feeding.
The challenges I faced being Alan’s mom were completely overwhelming to me for the first 6 months of his life. He couldn’t breastfeed and gain weight, so I was pumping around the clock for the first two months of his life, feeding him supplemented bottles and taking him to multiple Doctor appointments most weeks. Then at about 2 months the feeding issues began. We didn’t understand why, but he would cough and spill about half of his milk all over himself at every feeding.
Imagine my despair, not only feeling overwhelmed by a lack of sleep and any time to relax but also having to watch my son struggle to drink the milk I was spending my whole life pumping for him. Not to mention wanting to be present for my four year old and two year old as well and maintain a household and a marriage. I was beyond overwhelmed. I was actually fighting for my sanity at times.
Amazingly, now on the other side of a lot of the craziness, I can honestly say that God was not only faithful, He was gracious enough to help me grow through this experience and teach me valuable lessons that are still with me. I want to share two lessons He has taught me in two posts. The first lesson He taught me when Alan was four months old and has helped me in dealing with stress ever since. The second lesson is one He spoke to my heart when Alan was 8 months old, quite recently, and I will share that next time.
Lesson 1: When facing a stressful moment, give it up to God immediately by crying out to Him for help. Throw your anxiety up to Him, actually going through the motions of throwing something upward if necessary, trust Him to diffuse the bombs, and then step back from the stress, watching for and expecting His deliverance.
The Lord brought this lesson to me by bringing me through some incredibly stressful weeks where I experienced several panic attacks and then speaking to me through a woman in our Sunday School class. Her name is Rupla. She had no idea how the Holy Spirit was using her when she spoke these words to me. I had expressed some frustration at not being able to read my Bible or have any concentrated time with the Lord since Alan was born and not being sure what to do about it. To my memory, this is what she said:
“Don’t think that God wants to have the same relationship with you that you’ve had in the past. He might not want you to spend concentrated time alone with Him in this season. Maybe He wants you to learn how to speak to Him throughout your day as you go about caring for your children. And whenever you have worry or stress, just give it up to Him immediately and then watch what He will do for you!”
This was a monumental shift for me in my relationship with God. Ever since my days at Toccoa Falls Bible College, on the beautiful campus set in the foothills of the smoky mountains, I have always loved having extended, peaceful quiet times of reading the Word, journaling and praying. I had my favorite spot under a tree on top of a hill where no one else ever went. I would spend twenty minutes to an hour there most days, just sitting at the feet of Jesus. It was priceless.
Of course, as a young mother I quickly realized I needed to learn to use my time more efficiently. But until Alan was born, I was still able to squeeze in at least some time to read my Bible and pray during most weeks. But I had never experienced the level of stress and sleep-deprivation for weeks upon months that I experienced after Alan was born.
Just to give you a clear picture of my mental state during those grueling first months of Alan’s life, here is something I wrote in a very desperate moment on the digital notepad on my cell phone in the dark, early morning hours before Alan woke up for his morning feeding. I wrote this in February, right after we found out that Alan had actually lost a little weight over the course of his third month of life when he desperately needed to be gaining weight. His Developmental Pediatrician recommended that we schedule a Barium Swallow Study for Alan for potential feeding issues after she observed one of his dysfunctional feedings. We scheduled it right away but we had to wait a week, watching him struggle through every feeding and knowing that he probably needed more help than we could even give him.
Full of Dust
It can feel like a prison, a cage
Being a mom of three
One is not normal
He’s barely getting by
As are mom and dad
He has trouble eating
I have trouble sleeping
He cries, he cries
I sit awkwardly, trying to feed him
He squirms, he coughs, he spits
This is not bonding
This is a waking nightmare at times
I scoop him up while still drowsy at 6:30 am after pumping,
Time for the morning shift
His warm and snuggly, sleepy, tiny baby body is precious beyond description
Oh, God, deliver me!
I am falling apart
I am fading, tired, a nervous wreck,
A heap on the floor, a crazy person,
Rambling, stuttering, barely coping at times,
Rising to the challenge at others
I’m fighting for my sanity
I’m fighting for my life
Please fight for his!
You are my Savior
You are my God
You can do anything
I’m starting to lose hope inside, please help!
This yoke seems heavy on my back
Is this yours?
It can’t be… or can it?
You said yours was easy, light
Learn from you? Oh, I want to!
I don’t know if I can learn anything right now.
Is this your ideal classroom or just a makeshift one?
Is it a classroom or a prison? When can I graduate from hell?
How can I pass your test?
I am just a worm, please remember
I am weak and lowly, full of dust
I crave your rescue
Please help my baby boy
Please help me
I am begging, I am grovelling
I am barely hanging on
Your are Good, You are Kind
Full of Compassion, yes?
I’ve never doubted this in these 35 years, my Lord, my God
Help me to understand
I’m beyond tired
My husband will be filling in some gaps again today
He “works” from home, he is sympathetic, therefore we are surviving, day to day
Now the crying has started
Now my day begins, again and again
Will this ever end? Will I survive?
Oh please give me a sign of your Goodness,
Please bless me, uphold me with Your Mighty Hand!
Let me sing Your praise again!
You know I will, dear God!
I know this is really raw and intense. My hope and prayer is that this can be of some encouragement to someone going through a similarly difficult time. God can use even the darkest of days to teach us what He wants us to learn and to help us to look a little more like Jesus. May you find strength in Him today, “Casting all your cares upon him, for he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)