Jesus, Once of Humble Birth

December 6, 2017 in Angels, Christmas, Doulas, home birth, hospital birth, Jesus Christ, Mary, Robyn, Uncategorized

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With Christmas approaching I have been pondering the concept of “humble birth.”  We speak of Christ’s birth as being under humble circumstances. In fact one popular hymn begins, “Jesus once of humble birth” (Jesus, Once of Humble Birth, Hymns, 196).  One of the primary’s songs describes his birth this way:

This is the stable, shelter so bare;

Cattle and oxen first welcomed him there.

This is the manger, sweet hay for a bed,
Waiting for Jesus to cradle his head.
(“The Nativity Song,”Primary Songbook, 52)

For Mary this experience had to be humbling, “Although Elohim must have lovingly observed the birth from a heavenly vantage point, even Mary’s extraordinary travail increased the irony. The tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was great with child, the exclusion from the inn, the natural anxiety of bearing a first child, and Mary’s isolation from her own family must have weighed heavily upon her soul” (Gary L. Bunker, “The Ultimate Paradox“). We do not know the exact circumstances of Christ’s birth but Martin Luther remarked,

No one noticed that in a strange place she had not the very least thing needful in childbirth. There she was without preparation: no light, no fire, in the dead of night, in thick darkness. . . . And now think what she could use for swaddling clothes—some garment she could spare, perhaps her veil. . . .

Think, . . . there was no one there to bathe the Baby. . . . The mother was herself midwife and the maid. (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther [New York: Mentor, 1950], p. 173). 

But Mary had accepted this fate when she said to the angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  (Luke 1:38).

As I have pondered Mary’s willingness to accept the circumstances that came upon her, I can only respect her humility.  The Guide to Scriptures defines it as,”To make meek and teachable, or the condition of being meek and teachable. Humility includes recognizing our dependence upon God and desiring to submit to his will” (source). Humility is not cowering.  It is much more powerful than that. It is accessing the power of God through submission to Him.

So what does this mean for us?  Sometimes we are given circumstances with a pregnancy or birth (and life) that is not what we wanted.  Last May I was asked to give doula support for a hospital birth to a couple who had previously had all of their babies at home with the assistance of midwives.  This birth could not be at home this time for a valid medical reason.  It was difficult for the mother to choose a birth in the hospital but she did.  This was to me “humble birth.” They had to accept the challenges that this birth would bring under circumstances that they did not want.  They asked a lot of questions and made the best of their situation.  Their little baby is seven months old now and continues to grow healthy because his parents with meekness accepted the circumstance they were dealt.  Many couples humbly choose a homebirth after much reflection too.  Humble birth isn’t about where the act took place so much as it is about the attitude we take towards the event.  Do we reverence the divinity with which the gift of giving life was appointed? Do we seek God’s will throughout the process?  Are we partakers of humble birth? I love the Nativity story.  I can relate to Joseph Fielding Smith when he said,

There is no story quite as beautiful, or which can stir the soul of the humble quite to the depths, as this glorious story can of the birth of our Redeemer. No words that man may utter can embellish or improve or add to the eloquence of its humble simplicity. It never grows old no matter how often told, and the telling of it is by far too infrequent in the homes of men. Let us repeat this wondrous story (Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 310-318).

I never tire of hearing the story of our Savior’s birth.  Last week our Primary children performed a humble version of the Nativity at our ward Christmas party. It was perfect in its simplicity. May you also rejoice in the humility of our Savior’s birth. Wishing you a Christmas season filled with love and light.

#LIGHTtheWORLD
To read The Gift of Giving Life buy your copy at your local LDS bookstore, or buy it on Amazon, where we have it at holiday pricing right now!

 

 


 

 

Celebrating Life on Mother’s Day

April 23, 2016 in Abortion, Adoption, Adversity, Depression, Fertility, Grief, Heavenly Mother, Lani, Loss, Motherhood, Pain, Parenting, Waiting

 

Image SourceMother’s Day can be really hard.

Hard because you want to be a mother, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Hard because you recently lost a child through miscarriage or stillbirth.

Hard because you’re healing from an abortion.

Hard because you have been waiting to adopt for a very long time.

Hard because you weren’t able to have as many children as you wanted.

Hard because your mother passed away, and you miss her terribly.

Hard because you wish you could spend more time with your children.

Hard because you’re a single father without a partner.

Hard because you’re a single mother, and you’re tired of doing it alone.

Hard because you’re unable to be with your husband or wife because of military, work, or other reasons.

Hard because your stepchildren reject you.

Hard because your mother struggled to give you the love you needed.

Hard because you struggle yourself to be the mother you want to be.

Hard because your mother was brutally abusive.

Hard because your mother committed suicide.

Hard because you gave your heart and soul to raising your kids, and now you never hear from them.

Hard because you long to know your Mother in Heaven.

So hard.

It’s OK if you love Mother’s Day. It’s OK if you hate Mother’s Day. Your feelings about Mother’s Day are valid and real, and I want you to let yourself feel them. You don’t have to pretend. You don’t have to hide your tears. Because I believe Dr. Aletha Solter’s words about children are also true about adults:

No matter what the source of stress, children will not feel better until they have been allowed to cry and rage as much as needed (Tears and Tantrums, p. 12).

Sometimes we will cry and rage for years.

I can’t take away your pain. I won’t take away your pain. Your pain belongs to you. But I do want you to know that I celebrate you.

I have carried some heavy rocks in my backpack. One of the heaviest was labeled: no-will-to-live. It was so heavy that when it was gone I felt like I might float right up to cloud nine-hundred-and-nine from the relief of it. I never could have imagined how much joy and hope my future would hold. I thank God every day that I chose life. This Mother’s Day I have so much to celebrate.

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These words quoted in our most recent General Conference are brutally true:

Each one of us experiences dark days when our loved ones pass away, painful times when our health is lost, feelings of being forsaken when those we love seem to have abandoned us. These and other trials present us with the real test of our ability to endure. –Thomas S. Monson

I know you have carried, are carrying, and will carry some of your own heavy rocks. You too have known indescribable sorrows. You have dragged yourself, bloody and bruised, over piercing paths and menacing mountains.

But.

You are still here. You are still breathing. You have successfully endured. All of your days. And all of your nights. And you are still here.

That is why I celebrate you.

Yes, let’s celebrate mothers. Because there are some inspiring and remarkable mothers out there, and thank the Lord for those nurturing souls who heal humanity with their presence. Yes, let’s celebrate women. Because women give life in so many ways beyond what happens in the womb. But even if you don’t personally feel like celebrating anything on May 8th this year (and that is totally OK), I will still be celebrating you.

That’s what Mother’s Day will be for me this year… A celebration of the gift of life. A celebration of the ones who gave us this messy, brutal, exquisitely beautiful thing we’re living every day.

I will celebrate those who have had the courage to give life, and with an extra measure of compassion and awe I will also celebrate those who have had the courage to give life a chance. And to keep giving life a chance… day in and day out… even when those days are full of ache.

I am so glad your mother gave you the gift of life. I am so glad you exist. And every day that you choose to keep going is a gift to humanity and yourself.

On May 8th I’ll be holding you in my heart.

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Sale begins April 24th

Sale begins April 24th

Conceiving Courage

March 29, 2016 in Adversity, Book, Conception, Depression, Events, Faith, Family size, Fear, joy, Lani, Motherhood, Personal Revelation, Pregnancy

 

Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. -Joshua 1:9

Almost three years ago, Robyn and I hosted a Gift of Giving Life party at my parents’ home in Utah County. It was very well attended, and I was privileged to meet many beautiful women who have since become my friends in addition to reconnecting with other women who were already dear to me.

Robyn, Lani, and Robyn's sister

Robyn, Lani, and Robyn’s sister

At the time I was busy mothering my four children, my youngest being just over 2 and my oldest 9 years old. The previous summer and fall (2012) had been harrowing for me as I battled for my life with severe anxiety and depression. Finally having regained joy and peace and a solid foundation, naturally I was not inclined to do anything to jeopardize the calm I had so painfully won. And yet… deep down inside my heart I felt that there was at least one child who was still hoping to join my family. Meanwhile, my husband had very strong feelings against having any more children. And most of the time I was inclined to think he was right. I didn’t think I could do it.

As part of the event, we broke into two groups to discuss and share spiritual experiences related to pregnancy, birth, and mothering. Among the women in the group I joined were several seasoned mothers of very large families. I couldn’t believe my ears when they talked about how much “easier” it got as their families grew (in years and number). “The older kids are so helpful!” they shared.

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A friend of mine (who also had four young children at the time) and I were aghast as we shared our fears that we couldn’t possibly handle any more children, despite feeling that our families weren’t complete. These mothers assuaged our concerns, saying, “Right now you are in the hardest part! With lots of little kids and none old enough to help out. It gets easier!” Even so, my friend and I were still hesitant.

My hesitation eventually gave way to courage, however, and over the course of the following year I attempted weaning off my anti-depressant in order to prepare my body for another pregnancy. When my weaning attempt turned into an even more severe and prolonged battle with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts (summer and fall of 2014), my intention of bearing any more children seemed impossible to retain. My husband and I just didn’t think my mind/body/spirit could handle it. So we did what we could to prevent pregnancy. In our then-thirteen years of marriage we had never had an unplanned pregnancy. And our prevention methods continued to work well for us… for most of a year.

Then, in May of 2015, I stared down at a positive pregnancy test after my morning meditation. Immediately I was overcome by so many emotions. I did not see that coming. It was not planned or expected or convenient. But nevertheless it was happening. Friends and family were also surprised but full of support and faith. Many separately shared their strong feelings that all would be well and that this baby would be a beautiful healing blessing to me and my family. I hoped they were right and courageously moved toward my baby’s birth.

It has now been almost a year since I stared at that surprisingly positive pregnancy test. My oldest daughter is nearly a teenager now. The other kids are 10, 7, and 5. And our sweet Baby Hope is 3 months old. Out of the most difficult and darkest years of my life emerged the brightest and most beautiful.

When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.

(Hymn #19)

Hope smiling brightly

I have been wanting to shout to the world, “They were right! They were all so right!” The seasoned mothers-of-many at the Gift of Giving Life party I hosted three years ago were right! Having a baby when you have several older kids to help is amazing. It is so much easier. And my friends and family who encouraged me throughout my pregnancy were right. This baby has been one of the greatest healing gifts of my life.

I am so happy. Life is so good.

good courage

If you are interested in hosting a Gift of Giving Life party, you can apply to be a hostess. A GOGL party is a gathering designed to get women (and men when appropriate) together in person to share how God’s hand has worked in their lives (in the area of giving life). It is an opportunity for people who wouldn’t normally to hear spiritual birth-related stories. It is also a great way to spread the word about our book.

We offer hostesses books at wholesale. You can pass on the savings or use profit to cover party costs. We have held many of these gatherings in different states with amazing results (friendships, fun, spiritual growth).

If you would like to apply to be a hostess please email us at thegiftofgivinglife@gmail.com for more information.

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Laboring Through

October 3, 2015 in Adversity, Depression, Doulas, Fear, Gratitude, Heavenly Mother, Lani, Love, Motherhood, Pain, Uncategorized

So Elder Holland hit another home run. I’d say his talk today ranks right up there in my heart with “Like a Broken Vessel” from two Octobers ago. Today Elder Holland honored women and mothers and the ways their service is nearer to Jesus Christ’s role as deliverer than any other service in mortality. He called mothers “messianic figures” and “saviors on Mt. Zion.” He even publicly thanked our dear Mother in Heaven.

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All of the talk was beautiful, but do you know what my absolute favorite part was? My favorite phrase Elder Holland uttered today was this: “laboring through the battered landscape of his despair.” As Elder Holland spoke of a mother striving to bear up her son as he traveled through the darkest days and nights of his intense anguish… I can’t even really describe to you what I felt inside. Perhaps those words and that story impacted me so deeply because I know so intimately what the battered landscape of despair looks like and feels like. Perhaps more intensely, however, I know the sheer magnitude and magnificence of the gratitude that can be felt toward those who have labored with us through the battered landscapes of our despair and anguish.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself thinking a lot about where I was last year. I went to my blog and re-read old posts full of the raw reality of what I went through. The more time passes, the more I forget just how bad it was. But in those moments of remembering, I felt it all come back to me… the utterly bleak and painful reality of what I had experienced. But the overriding and prevailing emotion I felt that night was gratitude. Gratitude beyond my capacity to describe. Gratitude so intense that it gathered with fierceness in my tear ducts and flooded down my face for a very long time.

One image kept coming back to me and renewing the flood of my tears. It was an image of me lying on my friend’s tan leather couch, our kids playing in front of me watching something on Netflix, my friend sitting at her kitchen table sewing together a quilt for her youngest son. If someone were to take a snapshot of that moment, they might conclude all sorts of things. They might wonder why we were “ignoring” each other. They might think it odd that I was seemingly sleeping through my visit with a friend. They might question the depth of our friendship. But all of those assumptions would miss the profound beauty of what was happening in that room.

I couldn’t tell you how many days I spent on my friends’ couches last summer. Sometimes I could have semi-normal conversations. Sometimes all I could do was stare at the wall or ceiling and try to breathe. Sometimes I closed my eyes and attempted (usually with very minimal success) to sleep. My friends really didn’t understand what I was going through. But it didn’t matter. I never once felt like a burden. I never once felt like an intrusion. I knew I could just be… just be… in whatever state I was in, and it was OK. If I wanted to talk, my friends would talk. If I was paralyzed by my body and mind and could only endure, my friends held space for me to endure. They played games with my daughter and fed her lunch. They made it OK for me to do whatever I needed to do. They sat with me, but not in a way that made me feel like a spectacle. They sewed quilts, did their dishes, folded laundry, but all the while bearing me up with their presence, their willingness to witness my pain, their open doors and couches always there whenever I needed them.

As I lay on my friend’s tan leather couch, my body was wracked with agonizing withdrawals, my mind was a whirl of fear and darkness. I didn’t know when the darkness was going to end. But in that moment, despite the fear and pain overwhelming me, I knew I was loved. I knew I was safe. I knew that I had support anytime I needed it. I knew that my friends and family believed in me, prayed for me, and most importantly that they were laboring with me in that landscape of horrific despair.

Elder Holland thanked mothers for their pure Christ-like love and service, and I myself do feel deep gratitude for my mother’s efforts to lift me in my deepest days of darkness. But beyond that I feel gratitude more profound than human language can convey to all the people in my life who labored and bore with me last year through my life’s most painful test of faith. Thank you. More than I can say.

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Watch with Me

July 13, 2015 in Adversity, Atonement, Breastfeeding, Dads, Doulas, Jesus Christ, Lani, Pain, Sacrament, Symbolism

Yesterday Kevin Barney posted “A Feminine Insight to Gethsemane” on By Common Consent. He explained that, as a man, it had never occurred to him to relate Christ’s longing to “let this cup pass” to a woman’s yearning to avoid the pain of childbirth. His post and the comments are worth checking out, especially the ones plugging The Gift of Giving Life. 😉

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Our wonderful Robyn Allgood is the author of a beautiful essay, “Birth in Remembrance of Him,” examining the connections between Christ’s Atonement and childbirth in The Gift of Giving Life. Here’s an excerpt:

The blood that was squeezed from Christ for us has the power to give us eternal life, while the blood that a woman sheds for her baby gives physical life. The work of labor often causes a woman to sweat as she exerts pressure to push her baby out. As the baby moves through the birth canal, mucous and other fluids are squeezed from the baby’s nose, throat, and other orifices. This squeezing or massaging of the baby prepares the baby to live outside of the womb. In this way, the labor that a woman experiences is benefiting her baby, just as the labor the Savior endured for each one of us is for our benefit.

Just last Sunday we attended Gospel Doctrine in my parents’ ward and discussed Christ’s experience in Gethsemane. As we discussed the Apostles’ difficulty staying awake to “watch with Christ,” our instructor suggested that Christ’s agony and the heaviness He felt were likely so intense and overwhelming that His apostles may have, on some small scale, felt it in the energy pervading the area. Because of their deep love and connection with Christ, they may have been experiencing some sort of “sympathy pains.”

asleep-in-the-gardenThe scriptures say that “when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow” (Luke 22:45). Our instructor suggested that it may have been that they were not necessarily “asleep,” but rather literally unconscious from the depth and intensity of the agonizing atmospheric pain they, as mortals, were incapable of withstanding. Personally, I have on a few occasions felt a pain so intense that I have fainted from it. I think our instructor was definitely onto something, and I think hers is the best explanation I have ever heard for the apostles seemingly “slacking on the job.”

When Christ asked them to “watch with Him,” I think He was, essentially, asking them to “hold space” for Him. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of holding space lately. Holding space for someone enduring a difficult experience is both an honor and a challenge. Our Gospel Doctrine instructor last Sunday explained that when Christ said, “pray that ye enter not into temptation,” scholars suggest that it meant something more like “pray that ye will not break under the weight of this hard trial.” It seems that Gethsemane was not just a difficult test for Christ but also for His Apostles.

posteriorAs she shared these insights, I also found myself thinking about childbirth. My second baby was posterior, facing my front, or “sunnyside up,” which is not ideal for the journey through the pelvis and birth canal. It wasn’t easy pushing her out, and I was making a lot of noise.

As I worked to push her out, my stepmother was on my left and my husband was on my right. At one point I looked at my stepmom, and I could see that she was crying. When I asked her about it later, I learned that they weren’t tears of joy as I had originally suspected. She was crying because it was so hard for her to see me in that kind of pain. Almost simultaneously, to my right, my husband was bent over, and at first I thought he was vomiting. In fact, he was having a hard time staying conscious and was on the verge of fainting. Though they were not enduring the pain themselves, they were having very real and visceral reactions to it.

After the hard work was over

After the hard work was over

I don’t know if Christ’s apostles could see Him as He prayed. The scriptures aren’t entirely clear. Perhaps they could see Him or yearned to help Him. Or perhaps they could simply feel a small portion of the heaviness and pain projecting from Him as He accomplished the Atonement. They offered “sacred support” in much the way fathers and doulas support their wives and clients through childbirth (see “A Father’s Sacred Support” in The Gift of Giving Life). They could not remove His burden, but I suspect they were able to feel some of the weight of it as they struggled to remain conscious.

It is not easy to hold space for someone in pain, and the Apostles were holding space for the most intense experience of pain that has ever occurred. This perspective has given me a deeper appreciation and respect for the disciples Christ chose to “watch with Him” as well as a heightened sense of gratitude to all those who have “watched with me” in childbirth and other intensely challenging or painful experiences. Their service was a beautiful gift to me.

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The Yoga of Motherhood

March 19, 2015 in Divine nature, Intuition, joy, Lani, Marriage, meditation, Motherhood, Pain, Parenting, Rebirth, Rites of passage, Yoga

 

Perhaps the essential purpose of all relationships is to create the laboratory in which we uncover our own divine nature and encourage theirs. -M. Catherine Thomas

In perusing the journal I wrote during my first pregnancy, I chuckled to myself when I stumbled upon these words (written September 10, 2003, just a couple of weeks before I gave birth):

Sometimes I almost wish for a trial or challenge to come so that I can be refined by its fire. . . . I almost hope that motherhood will be a challengeWell, I know that it will be a great challenge. But I hope I will look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow every day. Because I do want so much to develop and become a better, more loving and more Christ-like person.

The very next entry wasn’t until two months later, November 21. I wrote this:

I said last time I wrote that I sort of wished for a trial to come. Well, it certainly came. The first few days and weeks after my baby was born were some of the most difficult of my life. I didn’t get any real sleep until after we came home from the hospitalwhich was two days after her birth. I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the new role of mother. I was having difficulty breastfeedingwhich made everything more difficult. . . . Plus I was trying to recover from childbirth (which left me with multiple tears and lots of pain). It was hard for me to do virtually anything because it hurt to move.

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The remaining pages of that journal include a lot of venting about the challenges of caring for a very high-needs baby (who turned into a wonderful young lady, by the way). She didn’t sleep well, she didn’t eat well, she wanted to be held constantly, etc. etc. In June of 2004, I wrote down a passage from a book that helped me put things into perspective: “One of the greatest surprises, and greatest joys, comes as you realize that those have-to’s in your life actually got you where you wanted to be all along” (Emily Watts, Being the Mom). Indeed they have. My four children, and all the have-to’s that come with them, have done exactly what I hoped for as a soon-to-be mother: they have made me into a “better, more loving and more Christ-like person.”

Loveliest of the arts

Back in February I started Kundalini Yoga teacher training, so naturally I’ve got yoga on the brain. What is yoga? Here’s how Yogi Bhajan describes it:

Yoga is essentially a relationship. Consider the origin of the word “yoga.” Yoga, as we in the West understand it, has come from the biblical word, yoke. This originated from the root word in Sanskrit: jugit. They both mean “to join together,” or “to unite.” Yoga is the union of the individual’s unit consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness. The definition of a yogi is a person who has totally leaned on the Supreme Consciousness, which is God, until he or she has merged the unit self with the Infinite Self. That is all it means (The Aquarian Teacher, p. 14).

So the ultimate goal of yoga is union with God. How do we unite with God?

Last weekend in teacher training, our instructor said: “Confront your ego/shadow self until you get to I am, I Am.” After saying this, she shared a story about her early years as a yogi in Brooklyn, NY, living in the ashram. Every morning before sunrise, she went to group sadhana [daily yoga/meditation practice]. She had grown up as an only child, so it was quite an experience being with all of those people. She said that life in the ashram was: constantly having people pushing your buttons, triggering your stuff. As she said those words, I thought: sounds like a family. Isn’t that why God gave us families? To help us confront our egos, our shadow selves, until we get to I Am?

Byron Katie has said:

The people we most need are the people we’re living with now. Again and again, they will show us the truth we don’t want to see, until we see it. Our parents, our children, our spouses and our friends will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves yet (qtd. in M. Catherine Thomas, Light in the Wilderness, p. 165).

And Richard Rohr has said:

So we absolutely need conflicts, relationship difficulties, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies, or we will have no way to ever spot or track our shadow self. They [others] are our necessary mirrors (qtd. in M. Catherine Thomas, The Godseed, p. 168).

Yogi Bhajan called marriage between a man and woman the highest yoga: “Male and female make a union and this complete union is the greatest yoga” (The Master’s Touch, p. 138). Indeed, marriage provides ample opportunities for confronting our shadow selves, refining our behavior, and drawing closer to God. Perhaps it’s because I married a very kind, easy-to-live-with guy, but marriage hasn’t been my highest yoga. For me, it has been the yoga of motherhood that has tested and refined me most of all.

Yogi Bhajan taught that it was the job of a yoga teacher to “poke, provoke, confront, and elevate.” If that is the case, no one has been a greater teacher to me than my children. No spiritual practice has done more to purify my soul than motherhood. Yogi Bhajan said: “The ocean is a very calm thing, but when the winds are heavy and high, then it’s very choppy. The wind represents your egothe higher the ego, the choppier is a person’s life.” Clearly I came to this world with a whole lot of ego to process through. My teachers have had quite a job to do, and they have done it very well.

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Being a mother has required more discipline, patience, endurance, sacrifice, strength, selflessness, service, intuition, love, and reliance upon God than anything I have ever done. Mothers partner with God in a way that no one else can. I put this slideshow together as a tribute to the divine yoga of motherhood.

I remember when Dallin H. Oaks shared this story in conference:

One of our family members recently overheard a young couple on an airline flight explaining that they chose to have a dog instead of children. “Dogs are less trouble,” they declared. “Dogs don’t talk back, and we never have to ground them.”

True. Dogs are lovely companions. But we’re in this life to be refined into godliness. Yoga is the “sacred science of god-realization.” I thank heaven for my four excellent yoga teachers who “poke, provoke, confront, and elevate” me daily.

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Channing’s Milk-Sharing Story

February 25, 2015 in Adversity, Breastfeeding, Gratitude, joy, Loss, Love, Motherhood

By Channing Parker

Before the birth of my daughter, my pregnancy daydreams focused heavily on nursing my new baby while she slept in my arms. With each feeding, she would snuggle in close to me and drink until she was satisfied. I would pull her close, take in her sweet baby goodness, and drift off in blissful mommy vibes. When the time came for her to be welcomed to this side of heaven, I just knew that everything was going to go perfectly according to my plans. She settled in for her first feed, she latched beautifully, ate, and snuggled into her first newborn sleep.

savannah baby

Does it sound like a dream? I think those were my post-delivery hormones talking. The harsh reality outside of the delivery room was that my daughter had a very difficult time nursing. My dreams of peaceful rocking chair feedings came crashing down when we got home. Each time I nursed my toes curled as I offered my raw, cracked skin over and over again trying to help my daughter successfully latch. Every feed ended with both of us soaked in tears and milk. I was so frustrated! I had milk to give and a hungry baby to eat it, but something went wrong between point A and B and we failed to fill her tummy. We were just one week in and I was ready to give up until I stumbled upon a solution that was perfect for us – bottle-nursing. Bottle nursing consists of pumping breast milk and feeding it to baby via a bottle. My first pumping session produced more milk than could be eaten in one feeding, and for the first time since my daughter was born, I felt a sense of relief.

I hoarded any extra milk I had in the freezer. Within a month, my little freezer was bursting with frozen breast milk. It was at this point that I realized my body produced abnormally large amounts of milk – enough to fill about three babies per feeding. I went back and forth considering dumping all the extra down the drain when I was inspired to look into informal milk donation. I prayed and poured my heart over my decision to donate my milk to a mother who adopted her baby, born just a few weeks after my daughter. I moved forward and met this mom and her baby.

We talked for a while and got to know each other and cooed over our babies. I joyfully packed every bag of milk I had into her cooler. She gave me a hug walked away with a huge smile. At that moment, I realized she was carrying away 120 ounces of me. My tears. My milk. My heart. I felt lighter. Over the next ten months, God lead three other women just like her to my tiny freezer. Each time they came, they chipped away at the raw pain inside me and took those pieces away in bags of breast milk. Those parts of me that ached to be acknowledged and loved were wrapped in hugs and grateful smiles from fellow mothers. Eventually, the place in my soul that once housed a gnawing emptiness began to be filled with hope, love, and friendship.

God turned my dream of feeding one baby into something even more beautiful and fulfilling. He took my fiery determination to breastfeed and passion for my child and softened it into a passionate compassion for His children. The Lord knew that the joy of feeding just one baby was not enough for me, so he allowed me to feed four more. I look back on my experience as a milk donor and joyfully praise Him. How great His wisdom and His love!

My experience with milk donation is that an ounce given is received back one hundred times over in the the joy of selfless service. For both donor and recipient, an exchange of freely given breast milk is about so much more than filling bellies. It is about finding healing and bringing peace to the hearts that long for love, and that is a treasure that cannot be measured in ounces.

DSC_0114Channing Parker is an LDS wife and mother who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a passionate student and teacher of yoga and loves to share her love of life and learning with others. Find her at The Little Blog Of Awesome and let some of her radiance and joy rub off on you!

Towers of Strength: a Call for Stories

January 28, 2015 in Adversity, Atonement, Book, Book reviews, Depression, Divine nature, Fear, Grace, Grief, joy, Lani, Miracles, Pain, Postpartum Depression

Last weekend I attended Felice’s Therapeutic Imagery Facilitator Training. It was five billion times more awesome than I ever could have imagined it would be. I’ve been guiding my daughters on imagery journeys nearly every night since, and I can’t wait to share these new skills with everyone and anyone I can. So much healing happened in that sacred space last weekend. What an honor and privilege to have been a part of it. I love these women!

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After the workshop was over, I was talking with the lovely Anna Hargadon (one of the creators of the awesome film Women of Faith). She asked me, “So what’s your next project? Do you have anything you’re working on?” Maybe it was God’s way of nudging me to get moving. One of the first things that happened after I recovered my will to live last fall was that God gave me an assignment. It’s time to write another book, He said.

So this is me acting on that prompting. Last Sunday, as I drove home from church, the book’s title came to me. It was inspired by something I learned reading Heather’s new book, Walking with the Women of the New Testament. In my review of her book, I wrote:

Heather writes, “While we don’t know the details of Mary Magdalene’s infirmity, we might deduce based on what we know of the others whom Christ healed from evil spirits that she was tormented with some sort of mental infirmity. The fact that she had seven devils cast out of her suggests that her infirmity may have been severe” (p. 77).

Heather explains that Christ called Mary “Magdalene” (meaning “tower of strength”) probably in much the same way that he called Simon “Peter” (meaning “rock”). After her healing, Mary became a devoted follower of Christ and a likely “tower of strength” to those around her, including Christ Himself. Of all the people Christ could have appeared to immediately after His resurrection, He chose Mary Magdalene.

Being a woman who struggles with “mental infirmities,” I gather peace from Mary’s remarkable recovery. If Christ can turn an infirm and darkness-plagued Mary into a “tower of strength,” maybe then there is hope for me too?

The title God gave to me for this book is inspired by Mary Magdalene, the original “Tower of Strength” and one of my heroes.

Towers of Strength: Stories of Triumph over Darkness. What do you think? This probably isn’t what the book will look like, but I had fun making a pretend cover. A quick search on Deseret Book’s website only brought up a few titles discussing mental illness, and none of them (as far as I could tell) is written from the perspective of the “mentally ill.” Mental health practitioners and caregivers certainly have valuable insights and perspectives to share, but I just feel strongly that we need to give a voice to the ones living with the illnesses. I feel like there is a sort of assumption that the mentally ill aren’t capable of speaking for themselves, but I couldn’t disagree more. Our voices need to be heard. It’s time.

So far this is what I have in mind:

  • Spiritual thoughts and stories about mental illness from the perspective of Latter-day Saints, emphasis on stories of triumph.
  • Written by those who have lived with and/or overcome mental illness.
  • Stories of all types of triumph (through counseling, medication, meditation, energy healing, temple work, prayer, priesthood, etc.)
  • Similar to The Gift of Giving Life with stories from a wide variety of people with a wide variety of challenges.
  • Intended to bring hope to those who are still struggling in darkness and their loved ones and to help doctors, counselors, and caregivers to better understand the perspective of “patients.”

If you feel impressed that you have a story to share or know someone who might, please send me an email (askbusca at gmail dot com). And please spread the word on whatever groups, forums, and facebook pages you feel might generate interest. The deadline for story submissions is May 1st. And if you know of a publisher who might be interested, please pass the word along to them too! Thank you!

**Posted today, January 28, 2015, in memory of Ashton Mayberry who suffered from depression and anxiety and took his own life on January 28, 2014.**

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God Keeps His Promises, part 2

October 15, 2014 in Adversity, Depression, Fear, Lani, Personal Revelation, Priesthood blessings, Waiting

Back in March I wrote a post called “God Keeps His Promises.” Feel free to click over and read it. The main part I want to draw your attention to is this:

I wondered, “Will I need to take this medicine for the rest of my life?” . . .

In another priesthood blessing, God answered my question: “You will be able to be happy without medication.” He didn’t tell me how long it would take, but I was satisfied with just knowing that someday I’d get there. And so I went on, taking my medication, feeling grateful for my rescue from the darkness. . . .

About a year ago, I started cutting back on my dose, little by little, very slowly, adding in supplements recommended by readers and friends to ease the withdrawal. I took a dose last Tuesday, but when I was due for another dose I felt restrained from taking it. The next day I felt restrained, and the next, and the next. I didn’t hear a voice, but I felt a message in my gut: “You’re ready. It’s time.” . . .

The other night, I asked for another priesthood blessing. He said, “God wants to remind you of the promises He has made to you. He will keep those promises.”

It has been seven months. Five of those were excruciating on many levels. Once again I’m taking medication… the same medication God prompted me to stop taking in March. Once again I’m depending upon a pill to remain calm and happy. Needless to say this has been a confusing year.

For much of May and June, as I battled severe anxiety and depression and finally surrendered to the necessity of re-medicating myself, I wondered, “Why would God tell me to stop taking my medication if I was going to crash without it?” Then I stumbled on a video that brought me a lot of peace. It shares a story told by Jeffrey R. Holland…

I took a dead end. Clearly the wrong road. Retraced my steps and got back on the right road. Why did I feel that the dead end was the proper road to take if it wasn’t? When I saw this video, my heart flared with the Spirit and I felt like Jeffrey R. Holland was speaking right to me. Now I can know with a certainty that I’m on the right road for me. I also know that my dead-end detour this summer served many purposes, many of them probably unknown to me, but some of them made clear to me many times over. It was not a waste. Many lives were blessed by it, including my own.

But what about God’s promise that I would be healed and be happy without medication? When I told my (Mormon) psychiatrist about those promises, he encouraged me to re-read a couple of talks. One of them I have adored since I first heard it spoken: “Like a Broken Vessel,” also from Jeffrey R. Holland. He urges:

If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.

This message from a friend also helped me come to peace:

Through prayer, meditation and personal revelation I’ve learned that it’s possible for me to have bipolar and be perfect/whole/complete. And it’s part of God’s plan for me to be medicated. . . . That was God’s answer for me. Not to be healed. For now or for this life? I don’t know. I know I will come forward in the Resurrection whole and perfect and I cling to that hope.

We live in a fallen world. For some of our brains and bodies, the world’s fallen nature has a deeper impact. My pure immortal spirit wanted to flee my fallen body so desperately this year. Enduring the darkness was excruciating. But, for now, medication is God’s compensation to me for the disparities between my spirit and my body. For now, a pill is what is making my brain and body bearable for my spirit. For now, the healing power of God has not removed my body’s weaknesses but enabled me to thrive in spite of them. It is not the healing I wanted or expected, but it is a healing of sorts. But mortality is brief. I will spend most of my existence free of medication. Someday I will be happy without medication. Until then, I’m OK with it.

Healing Heartbreak

May 8, 2014 in Adversity, Book reviews, Fertility, Grief, Lani, Loss, miscarriage, Pregnancy, Virtual Book Tour

Today’s Virtual Book Tour post comes from Brittney at Notes from a Been-There Mom. Brittney has shared some of her journey on our blog before–the birth story of her fourth baby, born with a cleft palate. Since that birth, she has experienced multiple heart-breaking miscarriages. Those losses have inspired her to partner with me in creating a book for moms mourning miscarriages: Light in the Mourning. You can read more about that project and how to submit stories HERE.

Three weeks before Brittney's first miscarriage

Three weeks before Brittney’s first miscarriage

Here’s an excerpt from Brittney’s beautiful post today:

Day after day, I walked past a copy of The Gift of Giving Life on my dresser. I felt a pull toward it. The book felt like a warm spot it a cold world. But I couldn’t pick it up. The last thing I wanted to read about was the joy of all those moms with beautiful round bellies birthing their healthy babies. (Clearly it had been a while since I’d visited those pages.)

Finally the book won. I decided I’d read all the ribbon stories I’d always skipped but that was it. (Stories mentioning loss are marked with a ribbon to protect the faint of heart like me.) My heart broke as I read stories of mothers suffering; mothers who endured trials I would have thought unendurable. I felt the greatness, strength and beauty of the authors through their words and suddenly found myself in the best of company. I wanted to change their stories, breathe life into their babies and hold them up. Instead, in their respective times of darkness, these women found peace. They found light. I kept reading.

Brittney’s post brought me to tears. I so appreciate her willingness to share her courageous journey. You can read the rest of her post HERE.