Monday, November 12, 2012

Do You Know What Saturday Is?

This Saturday, November 17th, is Prematurity Awareness Day.  I know, probably wasn't at the top of your have had a preemie.  And then, things are different.  Then, prematurity isn't just a statistic you read, it's a reality that you have lived through.  For the family with a premature baby, those small green socks on the line above represent the fact that they really have used the same smallest pairs of socks they own, since their baby was born...even though he or she is now six months old. 

In order to bring a bit of awareness to preemies, NICUS, and what life has been like for us over the past five months, I thought I would use this week to tell our story of life with Griffin, our sweet blessing who arrived nine weeks early, as well share a few other stories and encouragment about how you can help make a difference when someone you know and love has a preemie.

To start us off, let me share a few statistics:
  • One out of every ten babies, worldwide, is born prematurely.
  • One out of every eight babies born in the United States, is born prematurely (approximately 1/2 million babies each year are born prematurely).
  • In Hinds County in Mississippi, in 2009, 1 in 4 babies was born prematurely.
 Of those babies born prematurely, here is the breakdown of survival rate, based on how many weeks the mother was able to carry the baby:
Length of Pregnancy Likelihood of Survival
23 weeks17%
24 weeks39%
25 weeks50%
26 weeks80%
27 weeks90%
28-31 weeks90-95%
32-33 weeks95%
34+ weeksAlmost as likely as a full-term baby
Sources: March of Dimes, Quint Boenker Preemie Survival Foundation

As I typed the statistics above, I was even shocked to find that three years ago, in our own county in Mississippi, one in four babies were born prematurely.  And yet, unless you are carrying multiples or have a history of medical complications, as an expectant mother, you probably don't give many thoughts towards having a preemie of your own.  We surely did not.  Yet interestingly, the odds of having a preemie far outweigh the odds of many diseases or special needs complications that many mothers do worry over.  Sure, all of the pregnancy books had sections on preemies and multiples, but I confess, I always passed those chapters by saying, "that's not me - I'm not going to have a small baby."  And then I did.  Didn't have a clue what we were doing at 31 weeks, checking into the hospital, finding out 30 minutes later, "yes, Mrs. Belknap?...we've called the on-call are ready to push!"  That was not what the chapters in my books had told me was going to happen!   

Most mothers of preemies would probably agree that you are not prepared for all that you go through - mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  In fact, it's really not for a while that you even get to a plateau where you can breathe a bit and begin understanding where you have been and where you are going.  When you have a premature baby, you just do the next thing.  They tell you push...and you do.  They tell you to pump and pump and pump around the clock because this baby needs milk...and you do.  They tell you it is going to be hard to leave that baby in the NICU...and it is.  But with God's grace, you do the very next thing.  And then the next.

Prematurity awareness day isn't going to solve the problem of prematurity.  But it MIGHT, just might help other people understand the risks, the stresses, the realities, what could be, and how they can help.  And maybe our story can be of encouragment to others who have this road ahead or who are even further down the path than we are. So stay tuned, more ahead on the wonderful blessing of a premature baby.

Our tough little 4 months old, weighing 11lbs.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Guess What....I'm HOME!!! Griffin in his own words...

Did you think we had disappeared?!  Well, we did sort of disappear from our abilities to blog because the doctors let me go HOME!!  Do you notice anything different about this picture below? 

That's more NG tube!!  What a relief!  The doctors kept telling Mama that one day it would "click" and I would be able to nurse around the clock by myself.  She really wanted me to come home and so it was hard to be patient, and I didn't want to let her down, so I was trying really hard.  Then, the day after our first blog post, it clicked!  Eating was so much more fun and easy all of the sudden, and no more having milk poured down my stomach - now I can taste and enjoy like you all do.  And a day later, I got to come HOME after 4 weeks and 6 days in the NICU. 

Mama and Daddy told me that I was going to love being home, but since I didn't really know what home was (since I've lived in an isolette for my first five weeks), I couldn't understand how great it really would be!  But let me just's GREAT!  Mama thought you would like a brief update on the past week of my life at home and then she is going to get back to filling you in on the first five weeks of my life.  So since we've been home...
  • I've made two trips to the doctor to make sure that I am gaining weight...and HUGE praise...I AM!!  I am now 5lbs. 10 oz!  That's a BIG improvement from 3lbs 4oz (what I dropped to just after I was born).
  • After all of Mama's worries about me not being able to eat, I am now showing her that I LOVE to eat...all the time...and she is now worrying about what life will be like when I am a teenager.
  • You probably won't believe this, but it's true:  Because of all the great tummy time the NICU nurses gave me in the hospital, I showed Mama on Monday during tummy time how I could ROLL OVER from my tummy to my back!  She couldn't believe it - five weeks and five days old - a new record!! 
  • Our first week really hasn't had many other notables except that we are all learning a new schedule and how to function on a little less sleep than Mama and Daddy were used to before I arrived.  But I'm sleeping between 2-3 hours at a time at night, so everyone seems happy.
  • OH and Mama says that I should mention what the doctor told us:  Because I am so small and still four weeks away from my actual due date, he told us that it would still be best to not get out and to not have many visitors so that I won't get sick.  That's hard for Mama but she wanted you all to know that she has loved getting your notes, texts, messages, emails, and calls.  It won't be too long before I am big enough and strong enough to venture out and meet everyone.  Until then, stay tuned for updates and pictures...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not our Timing, Not our Plans...From Two Belknaps to Three in God's Perfect Timing

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord" - Psalm 127:3.

The theme "Great Expectations and Gospel Realities" (subtitle of the blog) became the phrase, several years ago, that I would use for daily life when the great plans or hopes that I had for my day were not quite in line with the what the Lord has planned for me.  What can I say...I've always had great expectations...lots of plans, lots of excitement and optimism, and therein, lots of room for the realities of life to fall way short of the pontifications in my mind.

But if we are all honest, this is a theme we all struggle with - what we hope for, what we long for, what we want so much to happen in life, doesn't always work out the way that we wanted it to.  And in the words of Shakespere, "Aye, there's the rub."  On the one hand it reveals our longing for heaven - the things of this world are not as they should be.  On the other hand it brings us face to face with the earthly reality of Santification - that the daily events of this life are being used to ready the Christian for heaven.  It's the moments in which life doesn't work out in the ways that we wanted or expected that we are thrust involuntarily into the best of God's plans for us - plans to grow us in "wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52) - plans to make us more godly, more fit for Heaven, more ready to worship Him.

34 Days (and counting) in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Dominic's Hospital was not even the smallest of thoughts in the corner of my mind as John and I anticipated the birth of our first little one.  Great Expectations of a put together nursery with coordinating patterns and fabrics and painted furniture, of a clean house ready for baby to come home to, of cooking meals ahead to put in the freezer for post baby, of a cute sign for the hospital door...let's even be more realistic...of just having my bag packed and ready!...all fell by the wayside to God's plans: one little bundle of joy arriving nine weeks early, weighing in at a perfect 3lb 13oz.  The Gospel realities that suddenly emerged in our lives - we're not in control, we have to trust God with our child, we have to wait on God's timing to grow our boy and get to take him home - have given me more perspective and wisdom and growth than I ever would have gained from a to-do list completely done and a full-term baby that I could immediately take home three days after delivery.

You always hear that babies change your lives.  How much this has been true of our first four and a half weeks as the point that I can say that 34 days in the NICU has changed me.  How much I anticipted parenting to be me imparting lessons, Truths, and wisdom to my children.  How much I have learned in 34 short days in the NICU that God has equally built into parenthood, the Gospel reality that we too will grow...lots.  Our roots will have to go deeper, our branches will have to become more pliable, we will have to walk by faith more...dare I say that we as parents might even have more to learn than our little ones.  I wasn't expecting God's best for us to be the NICU.  My great expectations were hoping for the picture-perfect Gerber baby that is painted in every diaper commercial and parenting magazine.  But though there have been more tears and challenges that have come with a 9-week preemie, there have been twice as many joys, twice as much seeing the Lord at work, and twice as much growth in me.  And so, I have decided to blog and share it all with you in hopes that you too will find encouragment in the hard - even miserably difficult - Gospel realities that pop up when our great expectations fall short.  So I hope you will stick around as we share our stories and adventures of Griffin's first weeks...starting with how unexpected his arrival really was. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not Great with Keeping In Touch...

We typically know our weaknesses all too well and yet are rarely willing to admit them out loud to others.  For those of you who know me well, it comes as no surprise to you at all that one of my grand weaknesses is long-distance communication.  I am not good at keeping in touch.  It has nothing to do with the person on the other side of the telephone or email.  It's not a lack of wanting to stay connected.  It's not even a matter of intention (my intentions are SO good to keep up with you!).  Nope, it's simply me.  The truth is that I have never liked the telephone (a surprise even to me, for I love people and talking), and I am always absorbed with what I am doing at that particular moment so that when the phone rings, it seems like a distraction to answer.

And so, with this weakness now publically admitted, it is time to make a shot at change.  The Gospel makes it clear that there is no area of life where change is impossible, with God.  Who knew that I would eventually realize my need to apply the Gospel to staying connected with friends and family.  This is not my attempt at perfectly informing you, for that will surely not happen.  This is simply a step in the right direction.

A window into our world!  What HAS been going on with the Belknaps?!  Well, the answer is "so much!"  So much in fact, that John teases me that I'll never have time to write about it because we never seem to slow down from doing it!

I hope to go back in time and fill you in some of our dating stories, stories from these first eight months of marriage, as well as take you along as the coming months unfold with new adventures, challenges, and changes.

Stay tuned...a blog is born...and we have many adventures to share!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

God's Providence: Four Days After My First Post...and One Year and Eight Months Later

It was one year and almost eight months ago that I had the notion to begin a blog that would provide a venue for sharing all that God was doing in my life as a single woman in full-time ministry.  I named the blog, "The Wonders of Redeeming Love," after one of my most favorite hymns, "Beneath the Cross of Jesus."  After all, that's where daily life is lived - beneath the cross of Jesus, in need of His Redeeming love and grace on a daily basis, and that was (and still is) the story I wanted to share.  But I only managed to compose one entry.  My first attempt at blogging was short-lived and that entry was likely never read by the outside world.  "What happened," you might ask?  Good question.  After all, it's not typical that this type-A girl begins something that she doesn't finish.  The event that happened four days after my first blog entry led to my "hiatus" from blogging...until now.  But, at the request of many friends for a long time, I have finally given in.  A new blog is born.  And here is our story...

God's handy pocket dictionary of theological terms gives this definition - "The world and humanity are not ruled by chance or by fate but by God, who directs history and creation toward an ultimate goal.  Providence therefore refers to God's superintending activity over human actions and human history."  The definition I teach to my college students is this (based on the shorter catechism)- "God's most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.  God upholds and directs all things."

It all began when two church friends (couple A) decided that it was time to move - time for a downsize.  That event effected two more church friends (couple B) who spent Sunday evenings with couple A after church let out to avoid a long and late drive back to Gallman, Mississippi.  When couple A moved, couple B did not have their open spare bedroom to share...and so God led them to First Presbyterian Church of Hazlehurst, Mississippi (5.2 miles from home) for Sunday evening worship.  But, in God's providence, that small church eventually closed due to small membership and attendance.  Not to be discouraged, couple B looked for the next closest PCA church and God led them to First Presbyterian Church of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, a short 4.2 miles from home.  This couple began sitting on the same pew week after week and developed a relationship with another husband and wife (couple C) who sat on the pew immediately in front of them.  Over the course of time, couple B also got to know the son of couple important character in the story.

Simultaneously, couple B are members of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS where I worked as the Director of Women's Ministry.  My responsibilities on Sunday mornings were to greet and assist members at the information desk.  Faithfully at 9:10 am each Sunday morning, the wife of couple B would come in the door on her way to teach second grade Sunday school and she would always pause to say hello and talk briefly before heading on her way.  I enjoyed her visit each Sunday morning but in no way would I have ever guessed that God would use her in an incredible way in my life.

Why all of these details?  Doesn't it just sound like the ordinary, humdrum details from everyone's life?  Moves, church closings, and cordial visits in the church hallway - not exactly blog-worthy, right?  That is exactly my point.  We often think that God's providence refers to grand and out-of-the-ordinary events....the parting of the Red Sea, a burning bush, giants in the land - not the everyday events in my life and yours.  But when you read Scripture, you find just the opposite.  God works out His plan exactly through the very ordinary events in the life of His people who are sinners.  It is through faithful Hebrew midwives who simply wanted to raise children rather than kill them, that God works to thwart the plans of Pharoah and raise up Moses to deliver His people out of 450 years of slavery.  It is through turbulent family relations that God raises up a faithful leader of Egypt (Joseph) during a time of famine in order to provide food for His people.  It is because it was the time of barley harvest that Ruth is led to her husband Boaz.  It was because of a move, a church closing, and cordial visits in the church hallway that God led me to my husband, John Belknap.  Ordinary events...mothers, hunger, family trials, harvesting grain, the need for a job...attending to my daily Sunday morning responsibilities while God was at work.  The grandeur of God's providence is that is incredibly ordinary and unfathomably bigger than us, all at the same time.

On October 25, 2009, God's providence intervened in my life and John's through Couple C...otherwise known as Bill and June Long, affectionately known to us as "our matchmakers".  Mrs. June separately asked me and the son of couple C if we would be interested in meeting the other (much to Dr. Long's discouragment of meddling)...we both said yes (both not expecting grand things to happen) and a blind, chaperoned, double-date was planned!  The son of couple C, otherwise known as John Belknap,(and now affectionately known as, my husband) came to First Presbyterian Church with the Longs on Sunday, October 25, 2009.  I sat in my usual balcony perch where I could see them all from afar, and after Sunday morning worship, we met and the Longs treated us to a lovely lunch.  John and I have both enjoyed chuckling at our first, chaperoned blind date with two octogenarians, but God's plans are truly the best.  Since the Longs drove us to lunch, they also dropped us off at our cars which were parked in separate parking lots, so John and I never had the opportunity to talk alone.  Later that afternoon, I called Mrs. June to thank her for everything and to tell them both how much I had enjoyed lunch and how much it meant that they introduced me to a godly man.  Whether anything came of it or not, it was an encouraging day, as God had used them to remind me that He had not forgotten about my desire to be married.  At the end of our chat, I must confess that I did say, "But Mrs. June, if he does ask for my phone number tonight at church, please give it to him!"  And he did ask that night...and he called the next evening for a date on Friday...and the rest is, providence.   John proposed on October 4, 2010 and we were married just a few months ago, on February 12, 2011.  I thank God daily for the ordinary events in the lives of Couple A, Couple B (the Longs), and Couple C (my wonderful new in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Belknap).

One of many subsequent double-dates that we have enjoyed with our matchmakers.  Here, a Sunday evening after church at Stark's in Hazlehurst.
 There is so much to tell - so much more of God's faithfulness to both of us and the way He unfolded our season of dating, engagement, and marriage...and that is what I look forward to sharing in the weeks ahead.  But do know at the outset that this is a story of God's faithfulness and providence in the lives of two sinners.  It's a story about Him.  It's a story about our ordinary, daily adventures that He is sustaining and upholding.  But boy do we do have a few adventures to tell!

One of the reasons that so many have continued to ask that I blog is because our adventures...err...hobbies and daily living tend to be a bit old-fashioned by modern standards.  We love the country and country living.  Not Country Living like the magazine displays, for there, everything is neat and clean and perfectly in order.  No, our country living involves lots of dirt, lots of sweat, and lots of wonderful memories.  The goal of life is not perfection - the goal is looking a bit more like Christ today than we did yesterday, and it happens through the normal "stuff" of life.  It will be fun to share all the stories with you and to relive them as I write.  The idea behind this new blog title is that the storyteller is a girl who has a love for china, especially tea cups, a girl who loves to wear skirts, who loves being a girl...but country girls must be very flexible and quick to shift from skirts to dirt.  But let me say at the outset, it is so very possible to enjoy tea cups in the country...we use them every morning for breakfast.

One year and eight months after my first blog post - now 3 1/2 months as husband and wife...and loving married life in the country.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Wonders of Redeeming Love and My Unworthiness...God's Grace through Nine Years

Beneath the cross of Jesus, I gladly took my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock, within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

October 21, 2000 was the day that the wonders of God's redeeming love first shed light upon my unworthiness. Nine years ago today was when He opened my heart and granted me the gift of faith - faith that would plead for and then trust in His clemency power.

How sweet and awesome is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
"Lord, why was I a guest?"

"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"

'Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Nine years ago today, I had never read a book in the Bible and did not know how to look up a verse—but He worked in my heart to enable me to know that I wanted to trust in and obey this God of the Bible. Nine years later, I find my book shelves filled with commentaries, theology books, multiple Bible versions, and books on discipleship, ministry, culture, and Christian living. His graces and mercies abound.

With this blog, I desire to recount of His faithfulness, not mine. When Scripture calls us to "remember," there truly is a reason. How prone we are to forget God’s lavish faithfulness and blessing on our lives - how prone we are to forget the wonders of His redeeming love in light of our unworthiness. How difficult we find it to "remember the man hanging on the tree" as Pilgrim so frequently reflects in Pilgrim's Progress.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see,
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

As I make these hymns my prayer this day, giving thanks to Him who has saved me not on the basis of what I have done, but what Jesus has done in my place...will you turn to Him, too? I look forward to sharing the depths of His redeeming love in life and ministry in this, the ninth year of focusing my eyes on Christ. May He continue the good work that He has begun, for His glory...