Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How do I know God loves me?



I am so excited that an article I wrote all about this question has been featured on a new ministry's website. Here is an excerpt:

As a clinical social worker, I have heard and seen a lot of pain.

Often people would sit across from me, wondering aloud if they were loveable, if they were worth fighting for, if anything they said or did mattered. Hundreds of people. People of different ages, different ethnicities, different genders. It’s a universal question I am sure we have all asked at one point or another in a moment of darkness. As a Christian woman, I have been taught that God loves us infinitely. However, it is so innately human to ask…how? How do I know God loves me? If you are a Christian, then the answers can be found in His word.
One of the simplest answers to this question is that God never forces His love upon anyone. Love is consensual, and God respects us enough to invite us into His love without demanding it. God has given us everything we need to find our way to Him if we so choose, and He longs for us to do so. For centuries people have looked to the stars and asked if there is something greater, and that is due to a desire He has placed into our hearts. The Catechism puts this beautifully: “In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being.” We can find God through the world and it’s beauty, other people, scripture.

If you would like to read the article, it can be found here.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Why (and How) I am going Non-Toxic

Overall health and wellness has always been important to me. I have several family members who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses, some of whom didn't make it. Unfortunately, seeing the people in my life who I cared for and loved deeply suffer made me realize how fragile and fleeting life is. I am aware that some of those things were unpreventable, but I began to question whether there was anything I could do to give myself the best chance for a long and healthy life. Over the years I started to switch to balanced, clean eating by weeding out a lot of unnecessary processed foods. I began to incorporate physical activity into my everyday routine. I also prioritized my mental health including self care. Still, I never looked into the household and beauty products I use every day until the beginning of the year.

That is, until I started looking at all the ingredients listed on the back of the products I was using on my one year old. 

Suddenly I began asking myself, "what the heck is that ingredient?" I honestly never questioned it before, because I assumed that stores wouldn't allow companies to sell products unless they were safe for use. Why pay more money for products that are already working perfectly well? I began to Google just what those preservatives, fragrances, and other unpronounceable words were and I was shocked. "Fragrance" which is listed on almost every product you use on a daily basis commonly contain parabens, phtalates, and synthetic musks that can cause hormone disruption, reproductive problems, or other serious health concerns. According to the Environmental Working Group many companies are allowed to use "fragrance" as a catch-all term without having to describe what chemicals make it up. Even in my own life I have had allergic reactions such as rashes from products such as Tide, and was told by doctors to switch to fragrance free blends. 

I'm certainly not trying to condemn any company in particular, or any mother who uses conventional products. I simply began to have a shift in thinking. "If I am told not to take or use this while pregnant...then why use it when I'm not?" It must not be good for me, either. I decided to get back to basics. As I am currently a stay at home mom, the home is my workplace, so I am going to be overhauling it this year slowly to as many non-toxic products as possible.

The plan of action is this: I am going to replace items that we run out of with "better" options. My husband and I are creating a hierarchy of what is the most important to us for being non-toxic, and what we are fine continuing to use. The products we would like to focus on are ones that touch or are absorbed into the skin, as well as cleaning chemicals which we may be breathing in. This is especially important to me as I often clean with the little one around. I also plan on making many products at home. I can share DIY "recipes" as I perfect them in this space.

Switching to (mostly) non-toxic products can be quite expensive. That is why we are focusing on doing this over the year rather than all at once, and as we run out. DIY cleaning solutions often use things in the home such as vinegar, baking soda, and castille soap. Therefore it will be easy to throw them together with what is on hand.

I am excited to share this journey and what I learn along the way. If you have switched to non-toxic products, I would love to hear from you! Let me know your favorite products/DIY solutions. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

How I survived 1st trimester


Sounds dramatic, I know. Listen, first trimester is difficult. There is no getting around it. I know it's a miracle that you are growing a little human. I know you may even feel guilty letting other people know you are having a difficult time because there is a misconception that you are somehow ungrateful. You aren't. You are just tired of throwing up, tired of not being able to stomach any food...and just plain tired.

Every pregnancy is different, but I have learned some tips and tricks along the way to help make this one easier for myself. If they can help you too, great!

Give yourself a break. You are doing the best you can.
You are growing a human. Your body is going through so many changes, and that baby is developing at a rapid pace in those first few weeks. The brain and spine began to develop and the heart is now beating. Limbs are forming. Heck, even the baby's nose is starting to take shape. (Read more about development here.) It's no wonder that you might not have the energy to cook a fancy meal. Give yourself a little grace. Your home doesn't have to be perfect, and neither do you. Take some time for a little self care. Rest! I assure you if this is your first, you won't get a lot of rest when the baby is here. Nap or simply be still as often as you can.

Listen to your gut. Literally.
I am a huge proponent of intuitive eating. I could go on about this for a while, but I would suggest doing your own research. A really great blog post all about intuitive eating during pregnancy can be found here. Your body will react the way it does to pregnancy, and that will look differently for everyone. I carry babies differently than other women do, and I have cravings you may not. In fact our eating habits may be in stark contrast to each other. If you are in tune with your body, practice gentle nutrition, and are mindful about your eating then you will gain the amount of weight your body needs. I know I fell into the trap last pregnancy of feeling as if I needed to eat more than I wanted to because I was "eating for two". That isn't a healthy mindset, and frankly it's uncomfortable. Your baby takes up room in your body, and if you are like me then you won't be able to eat that much at a time! I have been eating balanced meals, and I usually eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones.

Get your protein in.
Experts recommend 75 to 100 grams of protein a day for pregnant women (source). That is a lot! I have an aversion to meat when I am pregnant, so this is always difficult for me. However, I made a conscious effort this pregnancy to get as much protein in as I could. Turns out I had a much easier time this pregnancy! I know several factors play a role, but I am convinced my nutrition helped ease my symptoms.  Smoothies are your friend in the first trimester. I would often make a protein smoothie with water, chia seeds, frozen fruit, and spinach so that I could pack as many nutrients in as possible. Even when I felt sick, I could always get a smoothie down. Often drinking one would help my blood sugar, and I would be able to eat a small meal about thirty minutes later. Greek yogurt, cheese, eggs, and beans are all good sources of protein.

Blame the hormones.
One stereotype that is founded? You aren't in complete control of your emotions when you are pregnant. Remind yourself that those times where you are irrationally irritable, tearful, or anxious will pass. That isn't to say you can go around being mean to everyone and blaming the pregnancy, but the truth is hormones do crazy things to your moods. I cried over my husband turning down the heat one degree because I told him my bones hurt. I was luckily able to laugh about it and make fun of myself even while it was happening. You aren't being yourself, find the humor in it.

Find your tribe.
You are not alone! I have relied so much more on friends and my support system this time around, and I am glad I did! I asked my husband to pitch in and cook dinner sometimes, I asked people for recommendations on healthcare providers, and I learned to say yes when I was offered assistance with my toddler. The thought of miscarriage is scary, but I would rather have gone through that with people I know, love, and trust than all alone. I shared what I was going through with those closest to me, because I knew I didn't have to suffer in silence.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

First trimester recap

As I have mentioned several times I started this blog due to how helpful I found other motherhood blogs during my first pregnancy. Being an eleven hour drive away from my family I often turned to my friends and the internet for support. It only makes sense then for me to share my experiences with this pregnancy in case anyone else does a frantic Google search at two in the morning, because we've all been there.


SYMPTOMS

Nausea - This pregnancy is both very similar to and very different than my first pregnancy. I knew what to expect this time, so I prepared myself. With my first pregnancy I was sick every single day, multiple times a day and often had to carry a discreet bag in my purse with a toothbrush, mouth wash, and change of underwear (I know, sexy).  I have only been sick three times. It may be that my body is used to pregnancy this time around, I am getting more sleep, or because I am taking a different prenatal vitamin. Whatever the cause, it has been a God-send! I feel queasy and icky often, but believe me I would prefer that over what I experienced last time.

Food aversions - I experienced aversions to just about any and every food, specifically meat. Even looking at pictures of food was unpleasant until about the 12 week mark. This is the same as my first pregnancy, often meaning I had to force myself to eat anything my stomach would allow. Luckily I have learned a few tips and tricks to get all of my essential nutrients, which I will share in another blog post. Fortunately my appetite has been returning as of week 12, and I eat several small meals throughout the day.

Fatigue -  has been my most prevalent symptom, and while I certainly experienced it with the first pregnancy I am convinced it's worse because I have a toddler to keep up with! You can't take a nap before dinner when you have a fourteen month old climbing on you. This means the house is less than perfect, and I have been focusing my energy on caring for my daughter, husband, and myself. I have taken time for self care when I can either by resting when my daughter naps, sneaking off for fifteen minutes when my husband gets home, and going to bed earlier. It is upsetting that the house is messy, but my family will be happier if I am taking care of myself because their needs will be met with kindness and compassion.

Exercise has gone out the window, if I am being honest. I respect women who continue to go to the gym when they are in the early stages of pregnancy but my energy levels didn't allow it. I was in survival mode! I went for walks indoors to keep moving, and now that my energy is returning I plan do be more active. Walking actually helped my nausea and lifted my spirits when I felt hormonal. If you are able to exercise avoid any twisting exercises or laying on your back, and keep things simple. I wasn't running before I became pregnant, so I am not going to start running now. I'll go for long walks, do some prenatal exercises at home, and work on both pelvic floor strength and postural strength.

Acne - My skin always becomes very sensitive and dry during pregnancy, so I have simplified my skincare and am using gentle products. I am currently dealing with cystic acne, which is painful and embarrassing, but are a result of all the hormones and changes my body is undergoing! If you have any recommendations on how to treat that, let me know.

Sensitive to smells - Luckily I am not in the early stages of pregnancy during Lent this time around because I cannot be around fish currently. Even thinking about it right now is making me queasy. This was awful when I worked for Catholic Charities and my desk was right next to the kitchen. I had to smell fish once a week! It has been easier to avoid this pregnancy, and I usually just power walk past that section in grocery stores. Cigarette smoke also sends me over the edge, but again no one in my family smokes so I don't smell it often.

Cramping - I always get anxious about cramping in the first trimester. It is important to remember that you are feeling your uterus grow, and it is (usually) completely normal!

I have also experienced some vivid dreams and mood swings, but they haven't been too bad this trimester.


CRAVINGS

As far as cravings go, they are the same as I had before. I crave fruit, especially apples (which I don't like outside of pregnancy) and citrus. Either this baby is a girl, or that is something I will have with each pregnancy! I will be interested to see if there is a correlation. While overall I continue to have an aversion to meat, I do crave a burger every now and then. If I am being honest though, I don't experience cravings like other women seem to. I get moments where something finally sounds good to eat - and I need to take advantage of having an appetite - or certain things tasted better to me, like fruit. I don't wake up in the middle of the night craving things like you see in the movies, and didn't the first time around either.


LOOKING FORWARD TO 2ND TRIMESTER

Yes, we will be finding out the gender of the baby at 20 weeks and no, we don't have any preferences or predictions. We would love for our daughter to have a sister to play with, but would be happy with a brother for her as well! It is so funny because at my 20 week anatomy scan with my daughter I completely forgot about finding out her gender. I was so impressed with how I could see the four chambers of her heart, and how far technology has come! There is something about seeing a beautiful, healthy child that is more special to me than whether they are a girl or a boy.

I am doing things very differently this time around, which I will expand upon in another post. The jist of it is this: I am working with a different team, and planning an unmedicated and (hopefully) intervention free birth. I was "open to whatever" last time, which resulted in an unpleasant hospital induction, as well as several medical interventions where I had absolutely no input. While those interventions may have been necessary (I don't know and will never know, I am not a doctor) they made me feel as if I was not in control of my own body, and didn't have a choice in my labor. I know that I cannot ultimately plan my labor, but I want to take as many steps as I can towards a different experience. We'll chat more about that another time.

Lastly, a confession for you guys: I missed church pretty often in my first trimester. I was often afraid of throwing up in mass, sometimes threw up right before, and sometimes had no energy to look after my toddler during that time. My husband would let me sleep as much as possible during the weekends and often that would mean I slept through Sunday service. I am sharing that because I want to be open and honest about pregnancy, and that was something I experienced. I am not beating myself up about it, I kept holy the Sabbath by praying, reading the readings at home, and being kind to myself and my family. I am not holding myself up to a standard of perfection. I am glad that my symptoms have calmed down and to have more energy to attend regularly again.



This is such an exciting time, and I am happy to share this with you guys! If you are pregnant too, let me know how first trimester is going! I will be praying for you and your growing families.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Surprise!



Today I am so excited to share that baby #2 is on the way! We could not feel more blessed. Hopefully this explains my absence here, and in person (ha). I have been a hermit lately because first trimester with a toddler really wore me out, and because I am showing a lot earlier this time around.

Often people share an exciting anecdote about how they found out they were pregnant, but I feel my story is relatively boring. I am very lucky (and trust me, I don't take it for granted) that I have never struggled with infertility, even with irregular cycles. I have certainly had times where I thought I may be pregnant due to those irregular cycles and was not. However, when we have tried to conceive we have been able to fairly quickly. My husband and I knew we wanted children close together, assumed it would take a while, and did nothing to prevent/avoid pregnancy for a couple of months. When I weaned my daughter off of breastfeeding we decided to try that cycle. Turns out it only took one cycle to conceive - same as our first child! We are thrilled that we are adding a new member so quickly.

I can't wait to share more about my first trimester/overall experience with this pregnancy. It has been extremely difficult to keep this secret, because we have wanted to shout it from the rooftops! It was always our plan to have children close in age, but I will admit I am nervous to have two under two years old. I will certainly be relying on my family and friends to keep sane!

Little baby, you are already so loved. We can't wait to meet you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Every good and perfect gift



By the time you read this, the next day will be Thanksgiving! I wrote briefly on how I am attempting to step back and practice gratitude throughout the entire month. One thing I have learned over time is that when you set an intention for yourself - especially a spiritual one - things often go differently than planned. When I pray for humility or patience, God provides me with experiential learning. So it should come as no surprise that oftentimes I had thoughts that were far from grateful. I found myself having moments of self doubt, and I fell into a pattern of thinking "what's next?" rather than being content with my current circumstances. I've mentioned before how powerful our thoughts can be, and so those thoughts left me feeling downright antsy. It wasn't until I took a step back that I was able to recenter myself. Many times I have to tell others exactly what I need to hear, in order to do so. Therefore here is a message for you and me:

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

God's love for you is constant. No matter your attitude, no matter your thoughts, no matter if you can see it or not. He is steady, waiting. Every seemingly mundane good thing that has happened in your life is a gift simply because He loves you. 

The time that stranger held the door open for you.
When someone pays for your breakfast.
Your friend who calls you out of the blue to ask how you are.
A faith community you are a part of.
Your education and your job. 
Family, no matter how complicated.

It is easy to overlook things that are in our daily lives. We begin to take them for granted simply because they are always there. The same is true for God. We forget to thank Him for our lives, for the simple things. How different would our outlook be if we made every mundane task an offering to Him, as a sign of thankfulness? 

I challenge you today to say a prayer of Thanksgiving for the large and the small gifts in your life. Enjoy your holiday. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Overflowing with thankfulness



grat·i·tude
/ˈɡradəˌt(y)o͞od
noun
  1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

November is upon us, friends, and I couldn't be happier. The weather is crisp, the leaves have changed to varying colors of red, orange and yellow. While Thanksgiving is at the end of the month, I am challenging myself to practice gratitude throughout November. Often I take the blessings in my life for granted. I would like to make time each day to sit back, take notice, and thank God for them. I love the definition above (thanks Google!) because it reminds us of a key component of gratitude: returning kindness. When we reflect on all of the good in our lives, we respond with love and kindness towards others. In fact, one would say we overflow with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7). We cannot help but extend our gifts, our blessings to others.

Gratitude also leads us to prayer. How could it not? I see the blessings in my life: my church, my husband, my daughter, my friends, my education. God is generous to us, and in turn I come to the conclusion that I don't deserve any of it. I once had a friend tell me that humility is just that, knowing you do not deserve the gifts God gives you, but recognizing them and using them anyway. God's love for me is overwhelming, and I need to recognize all the good he has put in my path.

Practicing gratitude means that we as people need to rest. With all of the day's responsibilities, this can be difficult. Resting, taking note of all around us, and whispering a prayer of thanksgiving can challenge us to step outside of our daily grind and truly appreciate our lives on a deeper level. This month I want to rest in God's love. I want to note one thing I am thankful for each day whether that is through journaling or listing them aloud. How can you practice gratitude this month?