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Life In Death to Self by Joellyn Hoekstra

I had a small conflict recently. It helps to practice surrender and self control when the problem isn’t catastrophic. It is humbling to see my sinful nature arise when my pride is threatened. When someone has wronged me or offended me all I want to do is puff up my chest, stand tall and fight to win. I want to see justice. I think I’ll just take it upon myself to bring that about, thank you. At least that’s what I want. My way. I’m just being honest. I want the other person to admit that I’m right. I long for them to call me up and say, “I’m so very sorry, I’m completely in the wrong. I’m a terrible person.” Yes, that will surely make me happy. 

I shared some of my conflict with a wise friend and mentor. She didn’t give me any quick-fix answers. That might have made me feel better in the moment, but in her wisdom she knew that wouldn’t last long. She just said, “let’s pray about it right now.” Everything changes when I bring my mess to Jesus. Every time. My load is immediately easier and my burden is light, or at least a lot lighter than it was. Romans 8:28 tells us that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose. I desire to be a part of that work. I want God to use my conflict to bring about good. For me and for the other people involved.  

Do I want good to come of this, or do I want my way? I had to ask myself that hard question. Giving up control and handing God my conflict doesn’t seem like it will make me feel better. Even though I have personally experienced God’s healing power in this way many times before. Once I give it to Him I know I can’t keep it. I can’t own it anymore. I have to stop obsessing over it. No more analyzing it from own my biased perspective and deciding that I am right. Stop keeping score. In many ways I know that when I bring my problem to Him I will not be so hurt by it anymore. It feels like being the one to humble myself somehow means I’m saying, “they’re right.” I definitely don’t want that. Often I need to continue to be a victim and feel the pain of it for just a little bit longer. Poor me.

There is a clear, loud message ringing out in the world. We should be doing whatever makes us happy at all times. It promotes utter and complete selfishness. Do you hear it too, or is it just me? Doing whatever pleases us physically, emotionally, and visually at any time will equal happiness. I have been wrestling with this idea for quite some awhile. When I hear and see this message preached and encouraged from every facet of life something in me literally twitches. I just want to look away. I believe that is the work of the Holy Spirit alive in me. Sadly, I feel like it is less and less of an insult on my soul over time. It has become so normal. 

I listened to a Sermon podcast by Francis Chan the other day. He said something horrifying that I can’t stop thinking about. He pointed out that one of the five pillars or goals of the Satanic Church is to create an environment around oneself that is completely of that person’s own choosing or desire. It is based on divulging in whatever pleases that person at any given time. He or she should also be free of individuals or surroundings that would question or pollute whatever desire or belief they are holding on to. It’s true. I looked it up myself, which was a creepy experience to say the least.  

Where is this “peace like a river?” Why is it “well with my soul” no matter what comes my way? It isn’t because difficulty never arises. It’s not because we have collected the perfect bunch of family and friends to be surrounded by. We do not find joy by fulfilling all of our own desires and getting our way. Again, we have to look upside down in this world. Die to self. Lay down your life. Find real life in Jesus. He laid down His life to give us this gift. I needed to give my conflict to Him. I’ve found that true rest comes when I completely trust Jesus to be in full control. It isn’t on me anymore. I want Him to have it. I want Him to make something beautiful out of it. If I can get to this place of surrender I often enjoy the privilege of seeing His glorious resurrection work in action, and tasting the fruit of it myself.

- JBH 

The Birth of Beauty and Suffering by Joellyn Hoekstra

I’ve now had a small plethora of birth experiences. My first was a cesarean section under general anesthesia. That means I was put to sleep for it. I don’t remember meeting my boy. Thank goodness there are pictures. My last was the complete opposite. There was hardly even time for an IV stick. I’m one of those weird people who has actually looked forward to the laboring and delivery of my babies since I was a young girl. It’s a kind of strange obsession I have. I even wanted another baby just minutes after Lottie’s birth (I know, I’m one of those crazy people). Many people tried to comfort me after Silas’ birth by reminding me that at least I have a healthy baby. Absolutely! Of course, I am beyond thankful to have my little guy. That’s not what I was missing. There are many mysterious and beautiful things going on during the birthing process, and I left his feeling like I had lost something. 

There are really two completely separate yet totally related processes going on during labor and birth. A woman is becoming a mother (or a repeat mother). She is going through a massive transition, regardless of how she has chosen to birth. There is also a child entering the world, and the two come together beautifully in the end. The mother and her perspective on this event in her life cannot be overlooked. Likewise, the child cannot be ignored, and the two should be kept safe, mother’s wishes and dignity preserved—even in a c-section (maybe even especially in this scenario). It saddens me to know how difficult it can be for a birthing mother to find a care provider who respects these two happenings individually and together. All births can be done well and carefully all the while empowering a woman in a mighty way. 

I had the opportunity to share Lottie’s birth with my sweet older sister, my incredible husband and my supportive mother-in-law/doula (two for one!). It has been important to be able to debrief with them since I have delivered my girl. My sister mentioned that it was profound for her to watch a natural birth and see the work with each contraction. She has been thinking about how this reflects a picture of our walk through life. She is so right and so wise. Our initial instinct is to fight and wrestle with grief or pain. It was powerful for her to see the contractions intentionally embraced and handed over and out of my control. We grow in the presence and process of pain and suffering, and we need people by our side. I couldn’t have done it without them.

We western folk have a real fear of pain and suffering don’t we? We have found various ways to numb it. Social media, alcohol, drugs, sex, narcotics, and baby head sniffing just to name a few. For me the birth process is an opportunity to practice suffering well. I don’t expect every woman to have this perspective. I know that I’m not the norm, but just entertain this thought with me for a moment. I longed to let myself rest in the hard contractions. It has struck me since that when I met each contraction ready to handle it with deep slow breathing I could actually rest (almost sleep) through it. When I was caught off guard and unprepared to meet the next contraction, I would be struggling and noticed that I felt stuck in whatever position I happened to be in when it hit me hard. A contraction can knock the breath right out of you when you’re not ready for it. What is the value in expecting suffering and being prepared for it in advance as believers in Jesus?

The birth process provides opportunity after opportunity (like every 2-5 minutes) to practice staring difficulty straight in the face and experiencing the courage and strength you find to get through it. I didn’t want to numb it. I didn’t want to fear it. I have been changed by my births. It’s all woven together here. The beautiful and the dark are present simultaneously throughout the laboring. It’s truly a small glimpse of the life journey. Birthing is a massive sacrifice on the part of the mother, giving all of herself to bring life into this world. What an incredible offering of the self. It is so worth the hard work.

Well-meaning Christian brothers and sisters have told me to protect myself from pain before. A few years ago I spent time in Uganda caring for vulnerable, sweet babies. One in particular, a precious boy who was so sick at the time that many people were worried he might not live. I specifically remember a friend telling me not to get too invested in him because I would be hurt if he didn’t survive. So I trusted God, and I ignored that person. I just loved that baby even harder. I cannot even begin to imagine all that would have been lost in my soul if I had taken this advice. When we go through loss and it hurts us, I think that’s a really good sign. Some of my hurts are the best things about me. They were deep enough to change me. I love those parts of my heart. Jesus is there. I wouldn’t take them back. I wish I had a stretch mark or physical scar to show for some of the deep love and hurt I have been able to experience with God by my side. 

I have felt so much joy with the coming of my new girl child. There are many emotions and such incredible highs. All the while, I have had friends and family who have experienced loss and heartache in these very weeks. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for grieving. Sometimes they happen all at once. How do we process this? Why am I holding a fresh new life with all the beauty and excitement that comes with her while others are empty handed? I did nothing to deserve this. Neither did they. My prayers were not more fervent and theirs were not lacking. Suffering is so hard. I don’t have the answers. I only know that God is good. I can rest in that truth in the midst of the unanswered questions and pain.

Sometimes we don’t like to acknowledge it, but the Bible talks about suffering. A lot. We’re told to expect it as believers and even to embrace it. That’s hard to swallow in the midst of real, true suffering. We need God in these times. He knows that. We grow and we learn to trust Him and to love Him more. We are only here for a time. Our present suffering is nothing compared to the future glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). We are obsessed with knowing how our lives will play out. That includes birth. It’s inconvenient and unpredictable. It seems to be incompatible with our societies obsession with comfort.

Birth presents us with beauty and pain all at once. We need support. Can birth be an opportunity to practice engaging and embracing suffering? I’m thankful to have had support, and I long for this for every other birthing mom. Can we suffer well? Can we come alongside our brothers and sisters and encourage them in suffering? Can we love knowing that it might hurt us? Are we encouraged to do these things or commanded? I don’t know what kind of suffering you’re facing now, but I long for you to be supported well and surrounded like a mother in labor. Fully embracing and acknowledging the hard work you are doing. I long for you to be prepared for it and loved well through it because you are not alone and because you are hoping and trusting in Jesus. I long for you to breathe deep and give your pain to Him. There is light in the darkness. There is glory in the end. 

-JBH

My Husband Made Me by Joellyn Hoekstra

My husband made me start a blog. He’s been telling me for quite awhile, “You just need to blog about it,” and I keep on giving him reasons why I shouldn’t. Maybe he’s tired of hearing me pour out all of my thoughts and feelings in the car whenever we go anywhere. Maybe he knows I need some sort of outlet to discuss what’s on my heart. Or maybe he knows that I’m not the only woman/mother/wife/Christian/nurse/friend/daughter who is rattling these things around within. I’m a full-time nurse by night and a stay-at-home mom by day to my three-year-old son and 20-month-old daughter. And by "stay-at-home" I mean that quite literally. We pretty much just stay at home all the time because I’m nearly 40 weeks pregnant with yet another wee one. Okay, yes, I need an outlet. 

I’m torn about the idea of blogging at all. It could just be an excuse I gave my husband for not wanting to go along with it, but maybe there is something there. We live in a culture that thinks it’s completely normal to have a self-focused page about all the best things we have to offer. The world tells us it’s okay to promote yourself, and when things are getting tough you just need more “me time.” Sometimes living in this culture as a follower of Jesus feels a lot like swimming upstream and everyone is looking at you like you’re crazy. We know that the Kingdom of Heaven is upside down from this world we are living in. When we are feeling like we need more time for us we would probably really benefit from pouring ourselves out for others. My dad told me that once when I was feeling down. Don’t turn in. Look for ways to pour out and serve. And he was right.That actually filled me.

I can recall many conversations or happenings where I have offered myself, knowing I might be criticized. I mean, I don’t really hold back, and I usually discover that I’m not alone. I also like to get people thinking and open up their mind to an idea they might not have considered otherwise. I am a Labor and Delivery Nurse and a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor. When a mother says she is considering breastfeeding for a few months, I encourage her, and then I throw myself out like bait and let her know that I nursed my first for over 3 years and my second babe in tandem. I am completely aware that she will think I’m crazy. I will leave the room and there will likely be a moment behind me where a husband and wife look at each other with those big eyes and laugh--at me. But if my comment opens up the door for her to extend her nursing journey beyond a few months, it’s worth it.

My lack of tact in conversation gets me in trouble at times. My profession (L&D nurses are sadly known for this) really makes it hard to know what to talk about around the dinner table sometimes. You don’t want to talk about vaginal secretions and placental encapsulation right now? Why? Anyway, as my Godmother once told me in the context of talking about a boyfriend I had at the time, sometimes our greatest strength is our greatest weakness. I figure, while this is a definite weakness at the dinner table where my friends and family cannot get away, it can be a tremendous strength in the blogosphere. You, as a reader, can just move on if it’s not your thing. I won't even know you did.  :)

There is such comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. I’ve come off countless shifts or tough days at home with my babies where I just need to phone a friend and hear her say, “I’ve been there.” I guess I hope that’s what this blog offers. I’m acutely aware that I have been blessed with a whopping group of incredible women (and men) around me. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t specifically recall a conversation or interaction with one of these incredible individuals. I don’t think it’s entirely fair of me to keep them to myself. 

So, as I walk forward into this blog land, I offer myself to you in an attempt to open up hearts and minds and to comfort. I’m committed to praying over any post or comment made here. I live deeply rooted in Jesus and in the truth of the Word of God. This gives me confidence and joy. I am a Daughter of the one true King. It’s who I am, and it changes how I view and sift through everything I experience in this world. It is because of this that I can live and share openly and know that whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, “It is Well with my Soul.”

-JBH