Lessons Learned

I've had writer's block lately. Not my ordinary writer's block, but some kind of strange variation. I can think of all kinds of things to write, but I have no time at the keyboard to give them voice.And then, on those rare occasions when I do have some time and all my conditions for allowing myself time at the computer are met, it either doesn't seem worth saying or it would take too much time to write in the time allotted. But this post has been bubbling for months. I promised Stephen's godfather, Bill, that I would write about lessons learned during bedrest. I saw Bill at the shrine Christmas Eve and remembered that I'd yet to make good on my promise. Bill is a 50-year-old bachelor who goes survival camping in Alaska for fun. I'm not sure what he can take from the experiences of a 42-year-old pregnant woman trying to care for 8 children from bed, but I'll give it a shot. Because I promised, and this seems like a good time of year to review lessons learned.

  • I learned who my friends are. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, God gave me the grace of knowing and understanding true friendship. This was an answer to a very explicit prayer and I'm grateful for the clarity. From those friends, near and far, I learned how to "visit the sick." I learned so many ways to care and to comfort and to be supportive. I'd list them here, but I'm afraid I'd forget even one and hurt someone's feelings. If ever you want ideas for how to love someone who is homebound or sick for a long stretch of time, email me. I'll send you a long list.
  • I learned to ask for help. Well, not really. But I did learn not to turn it down if it's offered. Progress, I think.
  • I learned how important prayer support is. When someone asks me to pray for them, I take the request seriously. I learned how much comfort and peace I found in knowing people were praying. Now, I offer the efficacious novena to the Sacred Heart daily for the intentions of everyone who has asked my prayers and then, if someone comes to mind or there is an urgent need, I pray a St. Anne chaplet as soon as humanly possible (this is often a middle of the night prayer).
  • I learned a whole lot about marriage. Some of it I wrote about before, much of it I'll hold (and treasure) in my heart. I've seen God do great things over time and I've seen Him do more than I ever asked in a short time. God is awesome!
  • I learned I have limitations. This one is tricky. It's not that I didn't know I had limitations before bedrest, it's just that I always figured that if I pushed myself harder or worked longer, I'd get past that limitation and on to the next boundary.Furthermore, I thought it was in my best interest and the best interest of those around me to push. Somewhere along the way, I had learned to equate performance and productivity with "goodness" or even holiness. When on bedrest, my world became very small and my activity very limited. I went to sleep at the same time every night. I woke at the same time every morning (both sleeping and waking were keyed to the medication dosage schedule, but it's still a relevant point). I never even considered pushing past those "hard stops" because I had too much respect for the physical burden I was bearing. My baby's life was at stake; I wasn't going to try to outsmart Mother Nature. How often--even very recently--have I forgotten the limitation lesson? There are only 24 hours in a day. It is stupid (and I use the word very intentionally) to try to do more than 24 hours worth of work. It is stupid to spend too much of those 24 hours on things that don't bring me closer to heaven. We don't know the hour or the moment. God doesn't grant grace in proportion to our productivity or our "perfection."
  • I learned that conversation means more to me than documentation. This came as a bit of a surprise. You know how sometimes you wonder "If I were going to die in three months, how would I spend this time?" Well, there was a chance I'd die in childbirth. If I'd had acretta, statistically, the chance was as good as the chance I'd have died from cancer all those many years ago. I thought that I'd write for my kids, organize pictures and memories, leave a printed legacy. Instead, I talked to them. Listened to them. And spent an extraordinary amount of time praying for them.  I wasn't maudlin and I wasn't obsessed or even convinced my days were numbered, but I did get a good glimpse of what and who really mattered to me and I'm grateful for the insight.
  • I learned that labor isn't what I thought it was at all. I used to teach childbirth classes. I had seven unmedicated deliveries, including a VBAC. I can't count the times I've said that natural birth is empowering. Really, it's not. God has all the power. If we think birth is empowering, we're really kidding ourselves. We have no power of our own--He has it all and we only work with Him or against Him. I learned that we have no control. God is so totally in control of birthing experiences. We can choose our medical personnel and we can even choose where we'd most like to deliver, but He writes the story. It seemed that every time I went to see the midwife, I became more powerless. I know that some women will write and tell me that I had the wrong midwife or I need to learn to be more assertive or that homebirthing is a viable option to avoid unnecessary intervention or that I needed to be less willing to listen to people in white coats. And I would tell them that I once thought that way, too. But now I understand that "stuff happens" when women are pregnant. And often, that stuff is serious and out of their control. The people in white coats are often our greatest advocates and often they are the difference between a healthy mom and baby and a very bad outcome. I learned to listen in humility, even though I'd birthed more babies myself than all of them put together and even though I thought I knew my body well.Sometimes, handing over all illusion of control is really a greater skill than learning how to "manage" labor without drugs or "manipulate" the medical community.Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to do nothing--but trust.
  • I learned that you absolutely cannot expect your children will behave a certain way if you are not right there seeing that they do. Whether this involves how they use their time (television, computer, Xbox) or how they do (or don't do) their chores, children need close and careful supervision. Mothering in my house is a very active undertaking. A whole lot of bad habits took root because Mom couldn't see what was going on. January will become "habit month" in a big way.
  • I learned that children love it when Mommy is still, when they can find her and know that if they climb up next to her, she'll stay right there and hold them. If they're really big, the same holds true. They sit next to her, and if she doesn't move, pretty soon they start talking. When Colleen solicited advice for me at the beginning of bedrest, I read through all the comments. Tears sprung to my eyes when I discovered one left by Laurel, a friend from college. Of all the commenters, Laurel was the only one who'd ever lived with me and Laurel was the only one who'd been around for my last life-threatening experience. And so she's the only one who saw firsthand my tendency towards frantic, perpetual activity, a tendency that's only become more pronounced as my workload has increased. I haven't seen Laurel in years. She's been off in exciting places being the diplomat's wife and Mommy to three little people. But it was Laurel who said,"May this somehow end up being a gift ... maybe of stillness!!"  In all those years since Laurel and I were housemates, I'd never once been truly still.And it was exactly as she thought it might be: a gift of stillness. There's so much to that. If we are truly comfortable in our own skin, we can be still. If we are cooperating with our friends and colleagues and not competing with them, we can be still.If we are open to our husbands and children, we can be still.  And if we are prayerful and truly faithful and we know God is in control, we can be still. To be able to be still is a gift and--for me--a rare grace.It's a grace I don't ever want to waste.

Jen, at Conversion Diary, is collecting posts on lessons learned in 2008. I wrote mine before I read hers, so I think I have more than 8. There is an  inspiring collection of links there.