If I had a dollar for every time someone told me one of my miscarriages was a “blessing in disguise” …I would have a lot more money than I do now.

blessings in disguise

 

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A few months before Annie was born, I carefully watched the unfolding news about that Christian doctor in the Sudan who was imprisoned on false charges of religious conversion. She was also pregnant, and a little younger even than I was. I just “knew” she was having a girl, too, and I immediately sensed a fellowship with her. I thought about how uncomfortable she must be, facing the rest of her pregnancy in shackles, with an order for torture and execution to come after delivering her baby. I hoped she could still believe that God would take care of her. I wondered if I would be brave enough to obey in the same circumstances. Knowing that Annie was growing strong in safety, I felt more blessed than I ever expected to, and I was so humbled to have the luxuries of safety, freedom, and good health care during this miraculous pregnancy. When I saw pictures of her holding her daughter and visiting Pope Francis in Italy after escaping Africa, I wept. About that same time, we read that Christians in Syria were crucified as martyrs. (It’s hard to type that out.)

On the way to the hospital for Annie’s birth, Aaron had several powerful sneezing fits and hoped aloud that she would be blessed with not inheriting his seasonal allergies. When she was born, we heard her (very cute-sounding) sneeze over and over. He was especially nervous… Turns out it’s normal, since babies are a bit waterlogged at first; we don’t know about seasonal allergies yet. But we noticed those sneezes, and tears sprung to my eyes every time I responded, “God bless you, baby Anne. God bless you.” It wasn’t just me being polite — this was a prayer. I wanted God to take care of her, to give her good things, to keep his hand upon her. I meant it.

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A few hours after Annie was born, after a nap and several hours of nonstop eating, I laid her on the bed next to me and marveled at how perfect she was. I think my sense of awe, relief, and gratefulness may have been a taste of how that Sudanese doctor felt when she landed safely in Italy. I noted that Annie’s small feet were shaped just like Aaron’s, which was no surprise to my ribcage, and she had the sweetest fringe of soft brown hair hanging over a tiny roll of chubbiness around the back of her neck. That same day I heard rumors of Christian children in Iraq (a country already fraught with emotion for us) being beheaded by more of those violent radical persecutors who had been in Syria. I’m sure moms in the middle east think their children’s hacked-off necks were particularly adorable, too.

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I can look at my life and say I am blessed because I have this hardworking husband. Because I have a house – with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fenced-in yard, and a refrigerator so full of food that I lose track of things and end up throwing some of it away. Because I have this daughter – who came to life where babies before her did not, who is healthy and robust and vibrant and sleeps almost all night. Because we are managing without a full-time income from me, so I spend the majority of my days caring for my child, walking my dog, running the home. But that’s pretty prosperity-gospel-ish. My friends who are single, or renting, or living off the generosity of others, or childless, or balancing work and parenthood are also very, very blessed.  I was blessed –that is, receiving undeserved gifts from God– before this, when I did not have a baby. And there is blessing in challenging babies, awkward-looking babies, non-sleeping babies, or babies who won’t latch on to nurse… and there is profound blessing in babies who develop differently. So we misuse the word blessing when we think it only references things we want to call “good.”

In fact, scripture gives us an entire paradigm shift about a blessed life. God doesn’t really mention the specifics of my circumstances in the description of blessing. Instead he says, “Blessed are you…
…when you are poor in spirit.
…when you mourn.
…when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  (Matthew 5) And this is not the sort of “persecution” wherein you petition the local library to keep objectionable content off the lowest shelves and then have an awkward moment seeing your opponents at the store later. It’s the sort where you give birth in a dirty prison because your brother-in-law called for your death while you were pregnant with his niece. It’s the sort where you race your kids up a mountain without enough food or water because you’re being pursued by people who will chop off their heads. It’s the sort where you get beaten up and nailed to a cross and die in agony. This is what God calls “the blessed life.”

***

Now, if I had a dollar for every time someone talked about my daughter and asked, “isn’t she just such a blessing?” I would also have more money. The answer is yes, she is… but that barely scratches the surface of what a blessing even means.

The same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him.  (Romans 10:12) 

“Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the Unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.” – Wendell Berry

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We’ve had nearly a month with Annie, who is essentially the dream-come-true, perfect baby in every sense. I’m getting afraid to tell people how fabulous she’s doing with sleeping and eating, because they invariably tell me I’ll pay for it when she’s a teenager, or, if they are in the throes of a regular baby’s sleeping and eating woes, I think they might throw an exersaucer at me in their sleep-deprived stupor. I was extremely determined not to complain about any part of life with a newborn, but I haven’t even had much worth complaining about. It has been pure joy, joy, joy to have her here and take care of her.

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Maybe because Aaron and I are both extremely inclined to imagine and prepare for the worst possible scenario in every area of life, and because we had a definitively “bad start” with growing our family, this pregnancy lacked much excitement or anticipation. What I really remember most about the past year of anticipating this time is being afraid. So many changes! So many questions! So many new things! We moved into this house knowing I was pregnant, but neither one of us could talk about where to arrange furniture or belongings in order to prepare for the baby. Before nearly every OB appointment, even well past the “danger zone” of the first trimester, I would listen to I Corinthians 15 on my phone and hold Max and cry. When we found out Annie was a girl, I panicked when I thought about how much pink stuff we were likely to accumulate and specifically told friends and family I didn’t want any pepto-bismal-colored clothing or gear. I probably would have been concerned about clothes with too many blue whales and orange foxes or something like that if she had been a boy. More than all this, I worried that the anxiety would spill over in to life with the baby, that it would prevent us from connecting with her, that being afraid of her meant I didn’t love her, that I was letting it steal the joy we had waited for.

But now, with her here safely, I look back and realize Wendell Berry was right in what he said about standing at the edge of the woods. We had the curiosity and excitement, for sure, but the sense of dread for the uncertainties ahead was unshakable. Now I think that fear was part of our first bond together, and I’m sure it’s part of the wild adventure of raising a child. It hasn’t robbed us of anything we need to love and enjoy her now. We really are delighted by every moment with this girl, who is, as Aaron put it last night, “much pretty.” (Proper use of irregular adjectives is one of the first things to go if you are overworked and a little sleep deprived, I suppose.)

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Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will even make a way in the wilderness… – Isaiah 43:19

 

We are delighted to announce the birth of our daughter, Anne Rebecca. Her name means “God has been gracious” and honors the prayers of Hannah, which I have often echoed, and the example of the prophetess Anna, who found her life’s satisfaction not in a child of her own, but in the salvation offered in the only child ever promised to anyone – Jesus. (Her middle name runs in my family, and she joins a long line of wonderful women named or middle-named Rebecca stretching for eight generations now.) This has been quite a journey, and our Annie is an undeserved gift from the God who has been gracious every step along the way.hummel family

 

 

“May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
— May He bless this girl.
May she be called by the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may she increase greatly upon this earth.”
-from Israel’s blessing to his grandsons Ephraim (“God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction”) and Manasseh (“God has made me forget my sorrow”) as recorded in Genesis 48.

Well, a month of radio silence here… I just thought you should know I have not fallen off the face of the earth nor have I had the baby and kept it a secret. I also have not experienced complete mental atrophy, since I have about 20 blog posts half-written.

Mostly…
party… I would probably feel like this every day even if I wasn’t pregnant, but coffee makes my feet swell three times their normal size, much like the Grinch’s heart overlooking Cindy Lou-Who at Christmas, so I can’t really do anything about it.

Caffeine issues aside, I’m not really reading anything, which is probably the biggest setback to writing efficiently. Between the responsibility of caring for energetic Max and a new baby coming any time now,  I’m not expecting to sleep much in the next several months so  this reading situation is unlikely to improve. I need to jump back on the audio book bandwagon very soon, which will at least start recalling the brain I know I have somewhere. It might even be the preventative measure that protects against committing some of the tackiest common mom-offenses: saying things in person or online (1) about bodily fluids to anyone other than the child’s father or grandmothers, and (2) claiming the “victory” of “keeping the kids alive” all day to anyone, ever, at any time.


After spending three weeks of hearing “You’ll go in to labor any day now! I mean it! You’ll have a baby before your next visit with me!” from the doctor every time I see him, I’m planning to go all Buddy-The-Elf on him if I get to the next appointment and haven’t had the baby yet.

With what seemed to be a medically-indicated earlyish arrival on the horizon for weeks, it’s been a new thing to wake up every morning and say, “If the baby is born tomorrow, what do I want to have accomplished today?” instead of working every day towards some extreme list of weekly/monthly/annual goals. This is good discipline for a planner like me, and every day is a new lesson in eager patience as we wait. And somehow at the same time, the latest possible day she could be born still seems extremely soon compared to all the waiting of the past. Part of me feels like I’ve been (emotionally) pregnant for about five years, so what’s a few more weeks compared to the past half-decade?

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:22-25

 

Since this pregnancy has progressed, graciously, to 35 weeks, I’m finding I can’t go out in public without getting comments about the baby coming. A friend told me people have an innate need to connect with others and don’t always know how to do it properly, and since most people have had kids or expect to have them, the sight of a child or a huge pregnant belly gives them an easy opportunity to try chatting with you. This makes sense to me and I’m happy to make conversation with people,  but I’ve noticed that 95% of the comments I receive from strangers are really negative. The comments like, “You must be getting really uncomfortable!” or “If you feel big now… just wait!” pale in comparison to what we heard from the person who told Aaron he could “upgrade” (to a boy) next time if I won’t let him “trade it [the girl] in.” Yikes.

Yes, I have had to leave my cart in the middle of the grocery store to use the restroom, arriving just in the nick of time. Twice in one trip.
Yes, my google search bar history includes phrases like, “best pregnancy sciatica treatments,” “risk of stillbirth after 30 weeks,” and “how to relieve swollen ankles.”
Yes, I barely sleep at night and barely stay awake during the day.
Yes, my maternity clothes are insufficient to cover my midsection and I sometimes accidentally show off some already stretch-marked baby midriff (not very attractive) while wearing compression socks (also not attractive) in public.
Yes, I weigh more than I wanted to weigh at delivery.
Yes, those famed “sweet” kicks are actually a bit painful.
Yes, there are other things I am not going to mention here…

And you know what? I’m extremely comfortable. Because I have been talking lately to so, so many friends who are waiting, and waiting, and waiting, or who have lost babies — Second trimester; Twins; Several losses in a row; Scared to love a new baby on the way; Trying not to resent a husband who changed his mind about wanting to have kids; Life-threatening ectopic pregnancy loss; Failing adoptions; Foster children sent back to dangerous biological families; Facing the probability that there will never be a “take-home baby.” I love these women and I pray for them. And I know any one of them would cut off her right arm to be in my compression socks and too-tight shoes in the height of summer. So I’m not glossing over anything: I really am extremely comfortable. I know what it is to face the hollowness of a flat (okay, flat-ish) stomach when it should be stretched to the max, and I know what it is to wait and cry and beg for answers… what I have now is a much, much better experience than those things. So I have to say I’m doing great, because there is no third trimester anywhere near as uncomfortable as the one that doesn’t happen.

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[as long as she's fine, I'm fine!]

 

 

As usual, our summer has had plenty of visitors and traveling already! A few weeks ago, Aaron’s parents visited and did amazing things like keeping my dog exercised, fixing our lawn mower, and painting trim while I napped. The following week I visited my parents, which required successfully transporting my 8-months-pregnant self and a 7-month-old dog on a 10-hour solo road trip through the midwest without losing my mind. I have been missing the ease of certain things about life in Iowa, but I must say that driving across Wisconsin is so lovely that it’s almost worth the extra time in the car compared to driving across Iowa and Illinois.

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Successful completion of this trip is due in no small part to indulging in a few of the 49 cent ice cream cones at McDonald’s.

After arriving in my hometown, a friend from high school asked if it was weird or hard for me that my sister is expecting a baby without facing any of the heartaches I battled. I can honestly say it noticeably affects how we handle certain aspects of our pregnancies, but I’m mostly glad not everyone has to suffer in the ways I did. We celebrated my daughter’s impending arrival, so I opened presents for her and spent time laughing with my extended family, full of hopes for the two girl cousins growing up having as much fun as my sisters and I have with our girl cousins.

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praising God for all five girls in this picture!

Other parts of the weekend were more sober. I stayed a little longer than I originally intended because my grandparents were both rapidly declining into very poor health, so I was able to spend extra time with them and help my mom, who bears most of the heaviness of their care right now.  Is there something ironic about uncomfortably leaning over a giant belly to wash a sink of dishes for the chemo patient you’re naming your baby after? And having inspiration about what foods might work for her to eat because you’ve also recently experienced more nausea than you ever imagined possible? I thought so. It was certainly a week of peculiar beauty.

This is exactly what I meant when I said that most of life bears witness to the old funeral text: In the midst of life, we are in death. There is tension, there is heartache, there is so much joy and so much awareness that everything’s a little askew. Because I want my baby to know personally how sweet my Grandma is and how special it is that we have this same middle name that keeps passing down for all the girls, and I don’t know if that will happen. I would have loved if we hadn’t lost the babies before her so she would “just” have hand-me-downs from older siblings instead of fancy new duds from a big baby shower. It’s not a sign of discontent to acknowledge that things are messed up and you wish it could be different.

But at the same time, I am so thankful that anything that ever holds together is evidence of grace. We see so much of it right now.

max in lake michigan

little max in lake michigan at sunset.

 

A contented heart looks to and … sees the wisdom of God in everything. In his submission, he sees His sovereignty; but what makes him take pleasure in God’s wisdom? It is this: the Lord knows how to order things better than I. I only see things at present, but the Lord sees a great while from now. …I know that the love of God may as well stand with an afflicted condition as with a prosperous condition.”
-Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Available for free on Kindle!)

In the midst of the moving preparations last fall, we talked a lot about something we’ve been dreaming of for years: a little lab puppy. Aaron grew up with dogs and still misses the black lab, Abe, that he raised from a puppy while he was younger, and we’ve always known that we would have a string of Labrador Retrievers when we “grew up.” The original plan was to get a puppy in between our first and second children, since we wanted our kids to grow up with a dog and we might as well just make that a very intense toddler/puppy/baby season and get it over with. As I’ve mentioned before, “original plans” are kind of a joke for us at this point. The baby thing got complicated and then every time we looked at our open back yard and white carpet, we knew the Iowa house wasn’t the place for a dog. Some of our friends had a fabulous chocolate lab that we loved, and we talked about adopting one of his puppies sometime around when Aaron graduated. As it happens, they had a litter due the week after Aaron’s PhD defense and the puppies were conveniently located just north of our new hometown in the Twin Cities. It seemed like an ideal situation, so we allocated the proceeds from the sale of our chickens towards our hoped-for puppy. We looked for houses with fenced back yards, and “passed” on several fabulous options that weren’t dog-friendly. We ended up buying one in a quiet neighborhood with a doggie door already installed.

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On Veteran’s Day, we got the text message that puppies had arrived! Less than two weeks later, I handed a positive pregnancy test to Aaron and said something like, “Well, I don’t know how this happened, and if it works out, we can’t afford to get a dog anymore… but I will probably die if something happens to this one and I don’t have my puppy.” Wanting both a dog and a baby very badly, we decided that it wasn’t worth panicking about the finances after making gazillions of sacrifices for the sake of “financial responsibility” during the past five years, and that we wouldn’t regret having both together in the end. We sent in the deposit for our puppy the next day. I showed pictures of “my puppy” to all my piano students and asked for their choice between my two favorite names (“Sam” and “Scout,” neither of which was a big hit with Aaron). One little boy suggested I name him after a composer… “Just not J.S. Bach, because people would think you were pretending to be a chicken if you yelled, ‘Bach! Bach! Bach!’ out the back door.” I felt this was a very astute observation.

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After we brought the puppy to our new (and unpacked) house in Minnesota, Aaron made a few other name suggestions and we tried them all out on the pup for a few days before settling on Max, which came from three of Aaron’s favorite movies — The Grinch, The Great Race, and Get Smart. I was the one who told Aaron he was definitely a “Max,” but warned our family that if this was any indication, we would have to rely on Jewish traditions that don’t announce a baby’s name until the 8th day of it’s life. (We managed to get settled there with relative ease.) Today, this little guy is seven months old! Though our couches are looking significantly worse and I have to do tons of laundry because he drools all over us, we have loved the hilarity, play times, and strict exercise regiment he has brought to our life. (Walking twice a day during the Polar Vortex was still a better option than having a brand new house demolished by a young dog.) This year has been full of almost as many big, stressful life events as you could pack into a 12-month period for people of our age, and I’m grateful we’ve had the joy of a happy, licky, waggy, too-jumpy puppy to bring so many smiles to our faces in it all. family

We took Max on his inaugural canoe ride this weekend, which went better than expected with NO TIPPING during his impromptu dives off the side. That night we laid in bed with lots of extra pillows for my pained hip, laughing at the snores of the dog we wanted, marveling at the impending arrival of a child we have really, really, really, really, really wanted, and expressed our joy to finally live near water, which we have both missed so much. It’s not how we thought this would all come together, but it seems to be coming together just the same.

[Puppy Anecdote: Max knew it was bedtime on Monday, and crawled under our bed in hopes that we would forget to put him in his kennel overnight. Whenever this happens, he doesn't know that his tail still sticks out from under the bed skirt. It's pretty cute as he wags it s-l-o-w-l-y with anxious excitement, though he's still naughty to do it. I tried to grab his haunches to pull him out, but he scooted further under the bed to the other side, where Aaron was standing. Max belly crawled along under the edge of the bed, which we watched as the bed skirt swayed, and finally stuck his tongue out far enough to lick Aaron's toes. Then he looked surprised that we "figured out" where he was hiding. Ha!]

I would look for a smart and touching quote to include at the end of this post, but Max is simultaneously barking at the FedEx guy and drinking out of the toilet. See ya!

 

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