growing pains

“The future feels so hard and I want to go back. But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned”.

Lately I’ve been remembering those lines from a favorite song of mine (a song I first encountered the last time I was living overseas.) I told a dear mentor the other day, “2019 has been fun”… and while there certainly have been many fun experiences this past year (traveling down to Mindanao with my best friend, visiting Singapore again after 20 years, exploring Australia for 10 days, going on a Shiphrah-staff retreat to the beach), I was referencing how difficult this year has been for me. From January to now (nearly all the way through 2019’s 11th month), that difficulty may have changed in its specifics, but it’s never waned. I’ve said in the past that I feel like all I do is share about how hard things are, and I’ve shared how this summer God taught me that hardship and difficulty aren’t signs that I’m doing something wrong. Sometimes things are just hard. And sometimes things are hard because that’s how you grow. 

I have been busy these past 2 months (hence the radio silence.) I’ve started a new trimester in school (which means 5 new classes to complete in 10 weeks); we’re still in the “-ber months” which is most often Shiphrah’s busiest birth season (just two weeks ago we had 4 births in 4 days; one mom’s active labor lasted 14 hours and another poor mom pushed for 5!); and lately it’s felt like every area of my life is requiring difficult conversations (not my favorite thing). 

As I enter into these situations I find myself feeling so inadequate for the task. “I’m not enough for this”; “I don’t have the skills to navigate this the best way”; “This is too much for me”; common phrases in my mind recently. And despite these thoughts, the difficulties just keep coming, which makes me wonder… maybe things are hard on purpose. God must be doing something here.

Way back this spring God gave me a vision while kneeling in my prayer room and a few days later I attempted to capture that vision with my negligible drawing skills. The vision was simple in its metaphor: water pouring from a pitcher into a clear, pebble-filled glass. But through that simple picture God spoke what He was doing then (and what I believe He is still doing now): pebbles don’t have to be cognizant of the water’s will or purpose as it flows past them; their ignorance (or even resistance) doesn’t prevent the water from moving. They might not even recognize that something is slipping around them, subtly causing everything inside the glass to shift. God showed me that even when I can’t feel it, even when I don’t see/know/understand what’s going on, even when I think I may be in the way, He is working. His Holy Spirit is pouring in and through my life, washing, shifting and resettling my heart, my priorities, my desires and my pursuits into the form He wants for me.

(Don’t judge my art skills. I was homeschooled by an accountant/lab tech and a mechanic).

People ask how I’ve handled “culture shock”, and at first I didn’t know how to respond. I always thought of culture shock as an ex-pat suddenly screaming in the market because some seemingly-harmless encounter tipped the internal scale provoking a meltdown. But I’ve never had a dramatic meltdown. “Maybe that’s not my temperament” I’ve thought. “Maybe I’ve grown better and better at remaining flexible and open with each new culture and language I’ve pursued in my adult life” (Tagalog is the 5th foreign language I’ve studied!). But recently I’ve begun to see that maybe that’s not the way culture shock looks most often. Rather than the occasional eruption, I now see culture shock as the constant filling of every area in your life, keeping your stress levels at a consistent 6-7/10 most days. Things that would normally be easy are suddenly difficult and draining. Conversations that would have been encouraging and natural leave you feeling confused and strained. You’re exhausted in tears at 3pm when you haven’t finished half the things you’d “normally” accomplish in a day’s work. And I keep expecting that stress level to go down as I grow more and more settled in my life here. But it remains untouched. 

And that consistency reminded me of something that was once ever-present in my life (amazing how easy it is to forget something once a few years have put distance between the experience and your day-to-day!). I’m experiencing growing pains! Google tells me that at 5’10” I’m among the 99th percentile for height among American women (I didn’t need Google to tell me where I stand among Filipina women! #jessithegiant) I was always the tallest in my class in elementary school, but from age 11-14, I needed new shoes every 3 months. Kneeling on the floor would bring tears to my eyes; my femurs were growing faster than the tendons and muscles in my legs could keep up, so I always felt pulling and pain in my kneecaps. I’ve been 5’10” since 14 years old (wanted to be 5’11” my whole life and I stopped 1 inch short?!?!) My dad tells me that the summer going into his senior year of high school he’d be woken in the middle of the night due the severity of his growing pains; he grew 6 inches that summer!!

I should have remembered that this constant, nagging, energy-draining pain isn’t new; I’ve already experienced it as a symptom of coming new growth. And just like those early teen years, I’ve felt a bit like I’m back in junior high these past few months. It’s awkward; I’m unsure of myself; skills I once had so much confidence in are suddenly uncomfortable and foreign. Usually communicating on this platform is easy, the words just flow, but I’ve been struggling to come up with anything to write for the past 2 months. 

Growing pains are bothersome because there’s just no way to know when they’ll finally go away. We are told by those around us that this won’t be forever, at some point they’ll stop. But just like a parent can’t really know how tall their teen will become, I don’t know what image God is fashioning me into here. We can have a vague guess by looking at the genetics of the mom and dad, but that only leaves us with general guessing at possibilities, and a lot of “wait and see”-ing in the mean time. 

So as I’ve been “waiting and seeing”, I’ve come to recognize how hard I push myself to grow.  Urgency is never lacking within me. I’m a passionate person and once I get it in my head that something is worthwhile or important, there’s no time like the present to get started. Throughout the past 14 months here in the Philippines I’ve faced many challenges, and with each new challenge I am reminded of just how far I have to go. “I really need to get this mastered because it will be so important in my life” has been on endless repeat. “This” could be a midwifery skill, a living-solo-in-a-foriegn-context lifeskill, another high-stakes conversation or a better understanding the social dynamics around me. But I’m now seeing that just around the corner from every “this” overcome is yet another challenge waiting. Just like the American perpetually saying “it’s just a really busy season right now, in a few months things will slow down”, I’m coming to realize that this pattern isn’t changing. So maybe my perspective should. I’ve got a WHOLE LIFE of needing to grow ahead of me; perhaps it’s time to balance that urgency with an eternal perspective: it is important to do this well, but I can trust that God is going to keep growing me even after this is behind me. Not a novel idea, but what a profound antidote to the urgency that rules within me with an iron fist.

I shared at the beginning of this year that my word for 2019 was Pillar of Fire. At the start of the year I clung to the truth that even though I didn’t know where to go or what to do, God would guide me as my Pillar of Fire. I didn’t need to know where to go; He knows and He’s leading. But now, as 2019 comes to a close, I still rest in that leading provision, this time trusting His pacing. When I’m not in charge, when I have to look to Him to lead, I’m forced to take one step at a time. One step of growth at a time. And when I’m tempted to compare myself to who I was 14 months ago, or who I think I should be wherever I end up long term, I instead must look to He who leads me. He knows the path He’s laid before me, and he knows the new creation He’ll be shaping me into along the way. 

I’ll finish this post with a Tagalog phrase. I asked the midwives if they were familiar with the phrase “growing pains” (and promptly had to explain it. That’s not a term here). The translation they gave me is “dumarami ang sakit” (“doo-mah-RAH-mee AHNG sahk-EHT”), literally “an increasing of the pain”. Close, but not quite the same.

I discovered this song months ago, and it’s come back as the perfect expression both of where I find myself and what I’m clinging to here. I hope it encourages you too. 

Praises these past 2 months

  • In late September I spent 10 days visiting an old Bible-school friend now living in Australia. This was my first time Down Under, and I came away so refreshed. My two hopes in going were to see beautiful sights and encounter some solid Gospel conversation, and I’m so grateful that I got plenty of both!
decided missionary budget didn’t cover a live show #sydneyoperahouse
Queensland just took my breath away #stradbrokeisland
Thanks to J- and his girlfriend for giving me such an amazing experience!
“ocean” is my favorite color
  • Balancing school and my apprenticeship has been difficult (largely due to irregular internet access), but it’s working. I’m 3-weeks-from-finished with my second trimester of my first year at Indie Birth Midwifery School, and I’ve now got my 123rd baby (48th Primary) under my midwife belt. Praise God for resilience, flexibility and an ever-changing system that’s working to get this midwife what she needs!
  • A big shoutout to Mercy House Philippines, where I wrote most of this blog post. I was privileged to spend Thanksgiving with these amazing people (celebrated a week early), and I’m so grateful for our friendship. Mercy House is a home for boys 9+ who had been living on the street. Spending three days with this massive family was profoundly refreshing and rejuvenating (and the surrounding countryside ain’t half bad neither!)  
view from Mercy House. wish MY neighbors were this nice

Pray for Me

  • In a previous post I asked y’all to do some serious praying for a family member in a desperate and dangerous place. Keep praying. Pray that God would speak clearly, rescue and continue to sustain in His mercy until things change. And pray for those of us close to this loved one; right now it’s looking like this hard season is only going to keep getting harder. 
  • In 2 weeks, 6 days and 22 hours the moment I’ve been dreaming of since August 2018 is finally happening: LAUREN IS COMING TO SEE ME! We’ll have three beautiful weeks together, and I can’t wait to have my favorite person at my side once again. Pray for protection for her (this is her first time flying internationally, and her first time out of the country since our family left Indonesia in 2003), and pray for extra blessing over our reunion this Christmas/New Years. We both could use some encouragement, and we know it’s just around the corner. #sistersmakethebestchristmasgifts
  • With each week that passes, I’m coming to see that the end of my time here is approaching. I really want to finish well; pray that I will be given the grace I need to approach the end of an 18-month-season-of-life with wisdom and understanding; I want to end well in relationship here; I want to give joy and peace as I go. I want renewed strength to let go of what I have known here and walk into the unknown ahead of me (more specifics to come later, but I’ve got a few cross-cultural adventures in store between the Philippines and the US that mean more resilience, grace and learning required). 

one year in, so let’s go deeper

Tagalog word for today: tapos na (“TAH-pohs  NAH”). Yes, technically this is a phrase and not a word. “Tapos na” is most often used in situations in which English speakers would say, “I already did that”, or “I’m finished”. (Reading between the lines, you can start to see what language-learning-by-immersion really looks like. Most often I don’t learn what words/phrases “mean”, as in their literal English equivalent; instead, I learn how Tagalog words/phrases are used in context. This means that I’m not only learning a language, I’m actually learning an entirely different thought process and culture.) This phrase seemed fitting for today’s post, as I’ve both FINISHED my first trimester of midwifery school as of yesterday, AND I’ve FINISHED my first year here in this Philippines as of last Friday! Three-cheers for the double-finish!  

Today is my first day of freedom! September 19 was the last day of my first 10-week trimester in Indie Birth Midwifery School (yes, we’re midwives, so we don’t do semesters, we do trimesters. #everythingpregnancy) Another huge thank you to everyone who has given to support me in this endeavor!!! I really couldn’t do this full-time-school-full-time-apprenticeship without you! IBMS students take FIVE 10-week classes each trimester, and I’m so pleased to say that I am 1/6th of the way done with my school journey! 

One of my favorite classes this trimester was titled “Speaking Your Truth: Content Creation for Birth Workers” (Indie Birth loves a long-and-specific course title!) This class was all about excellence in writing and content development, so we learned how to create our own podcasts and got tips for making approachable, interesting videos. The “why?” here is the idea that midwives have a unique perspective on the world (yes, specifically the birth and pregnancy world, but also the world at large), and one of the BEST ways to explain our perspective, not to mention possibly expand that thinking further in the world, is by creating material that connects with the people. Videos that encourage women interested in natural childbirth, podcasts that empower midwifery apprentices to continue down their road, articles and blog posts that create port-holes into a world that can be rather niche and specific so those unaware of this different perspective have a chance to look-in-and-enter a different frame of thinking. This course helped me see that my skill as a story-teller has the potential to shift the narrative from the medicalized myth to the fuller picture (That’s a direct quote out of my notes from one of this trimester’s lectures). And it helped me see that this blog is acting as a means of keeping my Family in touch with my growth spiritually and cross-culturally, certainly. But it is also creating a space where I can act as a bridge; simply by sharing birth stories and my experiences as I learn and grow as a midwife I am inviting you to walk with me. How encouraging to realize that I’ve already found a way to share my voice, and that a way that’s sustainable (32nd blog post in a 15-month period!) So thank you for journeying with me.  

So, I figured now would be the time to answer a question that I’ve encountered a few times already; I’m sure these questions will keep popping up as I continue through midwifery school, so let’s get the jump on it. This question is/can be asked a number of different ways, including the following I’ve heard from loving friends and family members: “Will the experience you’re getting at Shiphrah count?”; “Does the education you’re receiving in school count towards your midwifery license?”; “Why would you decide to not get a license?”; “How will you practice as a midwife without a license?”

 It all comes down to the same concept: licensure.

The long and short of it is this: I have decided NOT to pursue a midwifery license, otherwise known as a CPM (certified professional midwife) license. There are two sides to this decision: external (the limiting factors around me) and internal (my own perspective as a midwife), and I want to take this opportunity to explain a little on the first, and elaborate more on the second. 

Let’s start with those external factors, condensed down to the most concentrated version. During the years leading up to my apprenticeship here at Shiphrah I began to research the CPM licensure process in the States. The few schools I managed to find that are MEAC-accredited (the midwife equivalent of “board certified”) were SUPER expensive, long programs that looked exactly like nursing school: a number of midwife-specific courses sprinkled in with a bunch of “well-rounded student” classes that result in a bachelors degree. Initially put-off by the expense and time required, the final nail in the coffin was when I learned that only a tiny percentage of my international experience here at Shiphrah would be “accepted” to meet their clinical requirements (for example, only 10 of the 25 primary births I’d need could be met overseas). Looking over the fact that the US has decided that I only need to attend 25 births in the primary role before I’m a qualified independent midwife (!!), I was personally told by these schools that I could take as long as I wanted at Shiphrah, but only these small percentages would “count” towards my overall experience. The rest would have to be finished in the States, no matter how much I had learned in the Philippines. Fulfilling those requirements all over again in the States (“2-3 years” as the average time it would take per the school’s estimation) after already exceeding the license-board’s requirements overseas seemed like a frustrating waste of time to me. I’ve shared before how I specifically chose to do my apprenticeship overseas BECAUSE I wanted to learn how to be a midwife while encountering cross-cultural, cross-lingual, cross-life-situation hurdles; re-entering an apprenticeship in the states just to fulfill the US requirements would not only be a waste of my time, it would likely also mean 2-3 years of un-learning all the valuable skills I worked so hard to work into my bones as I grow up as a midwife.  

So I pretty much knew even as I approached my apprenticeship at Shiphrah that I wasn’t going to be able to be licensed in the US. But not being able to be licensed is not the same thing as choosing to not be licensed. The external factors would have my my pursuit of licensure difficult, but it’s my internal perspective that has brought me to the decision that licensure is not necessary

As I shared earlier, the US license board requires license-seeking midwife apprentices to have met certain clinical requirements (in addition to graduating from a board-approved school) before taking the license exam. If this seems exactly like the process it takes to become a nurse to you, you’d be correct. THAT is another reason to be skeptical of the midwifery-licensure process/system. I’m an RN and a midwife-in-the-making right now, so I can clearly tell you: there’s a difference. A philosophical, practical-approach difference. And I think that difference should be honored. A midwife isn’t going to be taken more seriously just because she’s jumped through the same hoops as an RN. If she’s going to be doing different things, acting from a different mindset, I would argue she needs as different process to take her there… 

I could say so much more about the unique advantages of choosing to be an unlicensed midwife; how so many people think that having a license will protect you from legal action (when in reality a license doesn’t make you immune to liability or criminal charges. In fact, having a license can even make you even more susceptible to charges as the licensee is forced to follow her license regulations to the T); how the trust relationship between client and midwife is profoundly strengthened without a license in the middle (a mom/family-unit is required to do their own research into an unlicensed midwife because she doesn’t have an outside standard saying she’s “sufficient”. If they decide this midwife has the experience and perspective that they trust, the are already more closely bonded, creating that mutual respect and trust that is essential for the midwife-client relationship); how not having a license frees the midwife to determine for herself and for each client if this situation is one she is willing to enter into (rather than giving that choice to state regulation); how an unlicensed midwife has greater personal responsibility (“Am I sufficiently prepared, both in education and experience, to care for this pregnant mom, her birth and her baby?” I am forced to answer this question with each client when I don’t have some third party stamping me as acceptable.) And to answer the question of needing license for any future VISA applications for my overseas plans: My RN license gives me a medical license if that’s required (though, I may not even go that route based on the experience of some other Workers). 

As I shared in a previous post, I am already seeing sign posts saying “you’re going the right way” in my different approach to midwifery journey. So many of the other interns who have come through Shiphrah as part of their licensure-process are so numbers-focused; they come for 4-6 weeks desperate for as many births, prenatal check-ups, postpartum checks, etc. that they can get their hands on. And I understand why; they’re in a system that’s demanding all these clinical requirements before they can fulfill their dream of becoming a midwife. But that system seems to be shaping the way these students approach midwifery (coming from the perspective that you learn how to be a midwife by being a midwife…); when I’m desperate for numbers, the women I’m interacting with are so easily reduced into the various ways they fit the system requirements and what they can give me. I would venture to say that every one of these midwifery interns would agree that midwifery is not a clinical (medical, systematic) approach to pregnancy and birth, and yet the very system that’s “qualifying” them as midwives is demanding clinical requirements, and thereby creating little clinicians in the process. My non-traditional apprenticeship (which, in light of history, is actually the more traditional approach) of learning-by-doing without the goal of approval-by-licensure as my goal frees me to interact with each birth uniquely and fully as a relational experience. It’s not about the numbers.  

Honestly, it has been pretty scary for me to work on this blog post. I know my perspective on licensure is NOT common or easily understood. I’m afraid of offending dear friends and past co-workers; I’m afraid of the possibility that my attempts to explain my thought processes (slowly developed over years and hundreds of hours in conversation and birth attendance) might have have erected walls rather than built bridges. I know my power to share and explain has limits, just as I know that my perspective here isn’t finished developing. So please hear me as I say thank you for bearing with me in reading this blog post, an attempt to challenge myself to put my soup-of-thoughts into words and courageously invite you to listen to my controversial perspective. If what I have shared here is new and confusing to you, let’s talk. These ideas are hard to condense into writing (though each time I try to articulate them I will get better and better at it; gotta start somewhere today). I’d love to share my thoughts and my heart more clearly, and the easiest way to do that is in a real conversation, in response to your questions and thoughts. 

One year down. So much learned already; what an incredible blessing. 

there may yet be hope…

Births since my last post: 6 (5 of which took place this week alone!) Welcome to the -ber months everyone!

I usually end each update on this blog by listing specific ways you can pray for me. I’m always needing and appreciating your prayers, and I can tell that my life here is lined with the prayers of my Brothers and Sisters interceding for me (some of whom I’ve yet to meet!! How crazy is that!?!)

For those of you who do know me, you’d know I’m most often pretty open about what’s going on with my life, the areas I’m struggling and growing and how I need prayer (like, for instance, setting up a public internet log for that exact purpose). Well, I’m smack-dab-in-the-middle of a season requiring extra intensive prayer y’all. The people who need to know the specifics already know, so suffice it to say this: a family member is in a desperate place. This is the worst I’ve ever seen in their life, and I don’t see any signs of it changing any time soon. Indeed, my understanding of the situation only deepens and worsens with each update over the phone (hard to know whether being so far away is a blessing or a curse). I’m angry, I’m disappointed, I’m hurt and I’m scared. Every aspect of their life is fraying at the edges (to put it nicely). Please: pray for my family member. Pray to the God who knows the specifics (both of their situation and their heart); pray to the God who loves them even when my heart sometimes just wants to be done; pray to the Father’s heart who is waiting for that “came to his senses” moment to run out “while still a long way off and bring restoration; pray that their life would be sustained each day until that moment of repentance finally comes (there’s a very real risk of death or a fatal accident here); pray protection from fear and anxiety over me and my sister as we love and watch powerlessly (I’ve already experienced how cleverly our enemy can fire arrows through this painful and tender place); pray for my faith (faith is truly tested when you’re challenged to bring something painful and persistent before God, day after day after day). Pray that God would intervene. Pray for rescue. Pray that the Holy Spirit would speak clearly, unmistakably. Pray for a Damascus-road intervention and 180-degree repentance. Pray for healing to flood down and soothe wounds that have been raging for decades inside them.

 I’ve been challenged to pray for this family member every day since my 26th birthday back in June. My heart has been so low at different times these past few months. Would you pray with me? A few weeks ago God opened my eyes and gave me Lamentations 3 to specifically pray over this family member. Below you’ll find the portions that jumped out so vividly to me; pray them with me (and pray for my faith to keep believing) as you read:

“I am the man who has seen affliction… He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones… he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer…. my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is [alternate translation from the Hebrew: “I have forgotten what good is”]; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.’… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast [HESED] love of the Lord never ceases [alternate translation: “Because of the steadfast love of the Lord, we are not cut off]; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’… there may yet be hope… For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast [HESED] love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men… Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven: ‘We have transgressed and rebelled,’… My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the LORD from heaven looks down and sees… I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.”

Lamentations, chapter 3

Thank you SO much to the PGC Mission team, to Josh and Whitney Nims and other staff members at TBC, and my favorite people for your sustaining prayers. Truly, you have been bearing this burden with me and it’s through you that I’ve been able to keep going. Keep holding me up guys, and together let’s keep interceding. There may yet be hope.

25+, but who’s counting

You might be wondering how I’m calling this next birth story my 25th primary if I just wrote out the story of my 100th primary. I’ll explain my double-speak.

When I first came to Shiphrah, the language of the midwives brought me to recording my birth stories into the following categories: observe, assist, primary. Observe meant just that: watch (and ask questions afterwards). Assist meant helping in some way: charting, cleaning up, clamping a cord, helping to deliver a placenta, etc. Primary was defined as catching the baby. So in early October (about two weeks into my apprenticeship here), I began writing “primary” in my little birth notebook. According to that concept (primary=catching), Aug 19th’s waterbirth was my 100th primary.

The alternate (more comprehensive) definition for primary came about roughly 5 months ago, when I was told “primary” meant birth attendance from arrival to discharge. According to that definition, the following birth was my 25th primary.

Ok, but really, why does this matter?! I’m not keeping track of numbers to prove and receive validation that I’m a qualified midwife to some licensure board (if you want to know why, click here) why am I keeping track at all? Well, first, it’s just a simple way for me to keep track for myself what experiences and skills I’m accumulating here. Going back through my birth notebook to review, I can tell by whatever’s written across the top of the page how involved I was in that birth (and I can interpret what I noted from that birth based on my level of involvement). Secondly, NARM (the North American Registry of Midwives, the licensing board) requires license-seeking midwife apprentices to have met certain clinical requirements (in addition to graduating from a board-approved school) before taking the license exam. The capstone to the clinical experience they require is 25 primaries, births in which the student midwife “calls the shots” so to speak from start-to-finish.

So I take a tiny measure of pride knowing that I have passed that 25-mark (recognizing that I started this primary count months after I could have. Realistically, the 25-primary mile marker passed a long time ago). As I’ve shared, I’m not using a licensure board to determine whether or not I’m ready and qualified to be an independent midwife, so this 25th primary isn’t making me feel like I can rest easy because I’m “approved” or “finished”. But, similarly to taking the SAT exam in high school when you’ve been homeschooled, it’s nice to know that if I cared (and if anyone else cares), I’ve met (and have already begun to exceed) that objective standard of prerequisite experience, whatever that’s worth. (Note: I really don’t want to put too much stock in that thought process because I don’t want to reduce my midwifery into numbers or qualifications. As I’ve shared before, it’s about the women, the relationship. That’s got to stay at the forefront).

But enough philosophy, let’s get to the good stuff: the birth story!

 This mama was pregnant with her fourth baby, and after three girls, mom and dad were excited to learn he was a boy. “Excited” is the right word for it; this mom came, thinking it was baby time, on Aug 19 and left 4 hours later still not in labor. And once again, 4 days later, mom came in “practice labor” (I hate the term “false labor”. Those contractions aren’t “false”, they’re real, they just aren’t bringing us a baby quite yet). She was sent home, still 2 cm dilated, baby sky high; looks like he wanted a different birthday.

Saturday, Aug 24 rolled around and mama came back to Shiphrah around noon after visiting her OB that morning (we advise our mamas to have 1 or 2 hospital checkups during their pregnancy as a “just in case”. Should we have to transfer a Shiphrah birth to a hospital, these visits will establish the mom as a pre-existing patient, preventing the hospital from refusing to admit the mom, which totally happens!). Her OB told her she was 5cm, so she came to Shiphrah thrilled to finally be in labor. For the record, dilation doesn’t mean you’re in labor, but we let her stay and watched to see if she had any sort of pattern and progression to her labor.

3:40pm her contractions finally got stronger; before she’d keep reading her book and sway a little bit with each contraction, or laugh and eat with her husband. Now she was sinking into herself and simply breathing with each contraction… we were getting closer! She asked me to do an exam, and we discovered she was 9+cm (only a little cervical lip from 10-1 o’clock) 80-90% effaced, baby in -1 station.

Just after 4pm we suggest mom try “hands and knees” a tried-and-true favorite of the Shiphrah midwives.

I really hate this picture, it’s so sterile, but it get’s the point across.
(Need to bring baby a little lower in the last stages of labor before mom starts pushing? = hands and knees. Got a breech baby you want to turn head-down during the last few weeks of pregnancy? = hands and knees. Seem like baby is in a posterior position and want to help him turn face down for an easier labor? = hands and knees. Baby in a malpresentation/gnarly cystocele blocking the birth canal? = deliver in hands and knees position. Might as well call it “the miracle position”).

Soon we could see the bag of water had descended down the birth canal, almost “crowning”. Mom was breathing baby down beautifully; she had voiced a desire to give birth on the birthing stool earlier in her labor, so we had it set up in the room, but now that things were really going somewhere she repeated a few times she’d rather stay in this hands and knees position. Soon baby’s head was out, looking up at me; I told her asawa (Tagalog for “partner/husband/wife/life-companion”), “he’s looking for you”, and he moved from his crouched position where he had been face-to-face with mom, holding her hands, to see the face of his baby boy as he was being born. His quiet joy infused mom with that last bit of strength and then behold, we have a boy! What a quiet, “easy” birth. Baby was quiet, eyes open, eager to nurse from the first minute (and her actually nursed for his first 1 ½ hour of life on the outside uninterrupted. Good job, baby!!)

Sorry, y’all. Didn’t get a picture of mama and baby. Trust me, he was real cute and mama is a superhero. But, because I didn’t want that best-I-could-find picture of the hands-and-knees position to be the only picture on this blog post (what a sad thumbnail!), here’s a picture from way back in April. Look at that super cute little peanut!

My favorite part of the newborn exam: when we walk to the scale to weigh the baby. Sometimes I walk REALLY slowly….

One of the beautiful ways I have been reminded about how uniquely I’m developing here in my midwifery apprenticeship is when a new intern comes and sees a “normal Shiphrah birth”. These interns leave that scenario bursting with energy and wonder, marveling “How amazing!! I’ve never seen anything like it!”, and I’m reminded to add that wonder back into my own internal narrative that reads as a combination of “this was a normal birth” and “this is how it should be”.

This birth was a “normal” birth, if you’re looking for numbers. But the beautiful thing about not pursuing a license is I’m so much more free from slipping into the pitfall I’ve observed in many of the license-pursuing midwife interns I’ve seen come and go during my time here. Moms, their births and their babies become lessons learned and numbers acquired. There are times, if I’m honest, when I see this tendency slip into my mind, and I have to correct my heart and approach. It’s about the relationship, it’s about this mom’s experience, it’s about the impact this birth and this new life will have on the family as a whole; it’s NOT about me, it’s NOT about whether this gave me anything. Birth, midwifery (human interaction, really) ALWAYS has something to give us (and always has areas in which something is asked of us); the question simply is whether or not I’m paying attention.

At last…

Births since last post: It’s been nearly 2 months since my last post… there have been babies

Tagalog word for today: bayanihan = (“bai-ah-NEE-han”). This is a “deep Tagalog” word (a local phrase used to recognize a word that’s old, like pre-Spanish-and-USA-colonization old, and rich in meaning) When I asked her what this word meant, Jasmin decided on “countryman”. Score!!! My last name is a beautiful Tagalog word that’s best defined with a word picture: a group of people from the same community gathering together to literally lift up one community-member’s house and carry it to a new place. It denotes support, together-ness and a deep sense of “we’re here for you”. So, yeah, technically it’s not the same as my last name, but I’m still claiming it, yo. Now introducing Jessica Leigh Bayanihan. Nice to meet you. #herfirstnameisjessica?

Bayanihan

I’ve started saying “September came early this year”. Here at Shiphrah we say that the -ber months are our busy season; September-December often means 5-8 births a week, and I am now starting to see that all over again. We had 5 births in less than 24 hours last week, and let me tell you what, it makes for a nice change.

The month of July was the SLOWEST month I’ve witnessed in my nearly 12 months here at Shiphrah. During the month of July we had, brace yourself for it, a grand total of ELEVEN births, and I only got to participate in 5 of them (the joys of having 2 other interns here besides yourself).

via GIPHY

(compare with August: 24 births)

So let’s just say I’m feeling a bit better now. What’s going to happen to me when I’m not in such a birth-infused environment anymore? As I approach my 1-year mark here in the Philippines (!!!), I’m already starting to get anxious about how quickly my remaining 6 months will pass… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It’s been a while since I shared some good birth stories, and despite the July-drudgery, I’ve got some goodies for you!!

I finally (FINALLY!) got to participate in a water birth, my FIRST here at Shiphrah. This is partially due to the dramatic difference in the numbers of “stool births” as one of our midwives calls our “normal” Shiphrah birth (they don’t ALL give birth on a birthing stool) and our number of waterbirths. This delay is due to many factors, but long-story-short, it has taken me a while to get in on a waterbirth. I HAD a relationship already established and I got the ok from a Polish-Filipino couple to sit in on their waterbirth back in June, and everything was looking swell… until her water broke and she never developed contractions. My BEAUTIFUL ideal birth (first waterbirth +baby girl born on my birthday) ended up taking place in the hospital. Mom and baby are doing great, and I reminded myself (a few times) that it’s not about me.

Anyway, that’s old news. An incredible couple returned to Shiphrah this summer, excited at the chance to birth their second baby in a similar way as their first: a Shiphrah waterbirth. These guys are both Filipinos, incredibly kind and engaging. And what’s more, they are fellow Workers doing the exact same Work I want to do with the same People I’m passionate about, serving among college-age students in West Asia. With each appointment they brought their 4 year old daughter A- along; she’s sassy, not-shy-at-all, speaks 4 (!) languages and quickly showed us her skills belting “Speechless” from the new Aladdin at the top of her lungs for all to hear (the lyrics literally say, “I won’t go speechless”! You can’t sing that meekly!)

P- found Shiphrah in the same way many of our waterbirth-mom’s do: a Facebook Gentle Birth group. While pregnant for the first time with A-, she was shocked to discover how many invasive and unnecessary procedures are done (even) at private hospitals lauded as the best in the country. Episiotomy, fundal pressure during labor, cesarean section because the mom is primiparous (in her first-pregnancy)… all routine in the hospital. Knowing there HAD to be a better, more natural and empowering way, P- found Shiphrah and says she had such a beautiful experience with her birth that she decided to become a doula. Now, 4 years later on home-assignment, she and her husband were back for the birth of their baby boy. Both P- and her husband D- had been praying for the name of their son and came to the same name, a name meaning “peace”.

So flash forward to the week-of. Mama and I had been texting back and forth throughout the week, swapping updates with encouragements and prayers. Saturday rolled around and I got a text from her saying, “Contractions have been rolling for a few hours now, but I’m still in early labor. Just wanted to let you know! I’m going to rest for now and then we’ll be heading to the mall to walk later on. Keep praying!” I had plans for the day but instantly put everything on the back burner; gosh darn it, I was NOT going to miss this waterbirth! Who knows when I’ll get the chance to attend a waterbirth again, and I was just as thrilled that my first waterbirth was going to be my 100th primary!!

That being said, for the first time I was a bit anxious when the birth was going to actually happen. 99% of the time “the-baby-will-come-when-the-baby-wants-to-come” is enough for my brain; I’m not all that type-A so the idea that I’m centrally involved in something in which I have almost no control doesn’t faze me. But this weekend was a bit different. I had committed to leading worship at Point of Grace (my church here in Manila, not the 90’s girl group #circleoffriends), because all the usual leaders were out of town that day. So I was stuck between a possible-rock and a could-be-hard place: if P- didn’t have her baby before 0800 on Sunday morning I’d have to leave to get to church in time for pre-service practice.

2148 (9:48pm for you non-military-time peeps. We really should just get on board with 24-hr time, it’s only every always more clear) gave a little update from P- and as midnight approached I got her text “we’re at Shiphrah!” Mama was 6cm, 80% effaced, breathing hard through contractions but smiling talking and swaying between each rush. She and her husband brought plenty of snacks and buko juice (“buko” is Tagalog for “fresh coconut”. buko juice = coconut water) and a great crew to support them. We had little A-, WIRED with excitement over finally getting to see her baby brother’s birth, two photographers (mama’s younger sister and a churchmate), their young niece, a doula plus myself and the two Shiphrah midwives. 9 people in a tiny room, waiting; a midwife will tell you there’s nothing quite like a birth to bring people together! We got the pool inflated (waterbirth patients buy an inflatable kiddie pool and leave it at Shiphrah before 37 weeks pregnant so we can be ready), and around 0130 mama was getting a bit grunty with contractions. She asked for an exam, and I felt a cervical lip from 8 o’clock to 1 o’clock (best way to describe something circular), 80-90% effaced, and baby was -1 station. Mama started feeling more and more pressure with each contraction and decided now was the time to get in the pool. Soon she starts to subtly begin pushing. This wasn’t the big drama you see on TV or in movies; there was no screaming or thrashing. There wasn’t even the noise and clamor I participated in during my 18 months as an OB nurse (when people are telling you when to push). The beauty of an unmedicated birth is that mom is able to tell when, where, how and in what position(s) to push. She can feel it. My job as a midwife is simply to reassure her and act as a resource if she needs ideas (i.e. positions to try, relaxation techniques, reminding her to eat and breathe, etc).

Daddy D- wanted to catch the baby so once it was looking like we were approaching baby time Dad put A- in an adorable little swimsuit and they both got into the pool. Mama’s water broke and we could all see baby coming down. 0219 baby boy was born, eyes open, arms flung wide!

Dad lifts baby’s head and chest out of the water, trying to bring him up to mom and is stopped by a cord around baby’s neck. Here he kinda panics; he can’t bring the baby up to mom because he doesn’t want to tighten the cord any further, but he’s worried about how to unwrap the cord (because he can’t bring baby back down closer to mom’s perineum without putting him back under water. #nodoubledipping). Seeing the frozen panic in Dad’s eyes, Ate L steps into the pool and brings baby as low to the water’s surface as possible, calmly unwrapping a cord wrapped around the neck twice. This is why mom felt the urge to push with each contraction when she still wasn’t fully dilated. The cord was keeping baby high between contractions (the lack of consistent pressure from baby’s head created the cervical lip). Baby “Peace” was active and calm; his eyes stayed open and he started crawling movements on mom’s chest as she rested in the pool. A peaceful, incredible moment I’ll never forget.

My first water birth was in witness of my best friend’s second born (her only girl), and my first waterbirth as a midwife also carries its own beauty. I’ll never forget seeing this joyful mom breathing through her contractions in the water with worship music from her church playing softly in the background; her lovely voice joining in between contractions, her arms extended, head leaned back in full surrender: “All things are possible in Your Name”.

Thank you P- and D- for letting me have a tiny part of the amazing birth of your first boy, born on dad’s birthday! (Check out little A-‘s sass!)

God has been faithful, He will be again

Births since last post: 10

Tagalog word for today: makulimlim: (mah-koo-LIHM-lihm), meaning “when it gets dark before it usually gets dark because a storm is coming”. Such a fun word to SAY, and I just love how specific it is! The PERFECT word for rainy season.

I was going to back-date this blog, but I’ve decided to just be honest. It’s been over a month since I last posted, and that’s just how it is. I haven’t been exceptionally busy, I haven’t had anything extra hard happen this month… I’ve just been dragging my feet to write this post. June was a “party month” for me here; June 5 was Ate H-‘s birthday (one of the Shiphrah midwives), June 8-9 was a mini-vacation for every Shiphrah staff member (10 Filipinas and myself went to the beach without kids or husbands, just us girls. And what a highs-and-lows trip that was!! #askmeaboutitlater), June 11 was my 26th birthday, and June 13 marked 9-months in country for me. And with me being here for 18 months, that means I’M HALFWAY Y’ALL!!!

We had SUCH a great time on our 3+ hr island-hopping boat trip
(bet you can’t tell which one is me! haha)
When your painted toenails match the ocean, you know you’re where you belong
The view from our hotel (only this empty at 6 am), Filipinos LOVE to vacation all together
Puerto Gallera, Mindoro, Philippines

My birthday was great; if you know me well at all, you know how much I love to celebrate things. Birthdays in foreign countries are always my favorite, but I was honestly a little bummed that my birthday might pass as just a normal day here. I hoped to catch a baby girl on June 11, but we didn’t have any births that day. Instead, I opened a package full of candy from my Mom (a wonderful surprise!), and video-chatted with my sister to open her package later that afternoon (quite the interesting dance when one family member is 16 hrs behind and the other is 12 hrs behind. #timezonesmakethingstricky). Lauren’s gift took the cake (she literally mailed me cake mix!) She knows my two main love languages are words of encouragement and quality time; when the majority of my life takes place not in English (and I therefore only catch bits and pieces), and I’m working amongst people who have strong, existing relationships built over decades, I usually feel like I’m desperate for a good sit-down and heart-sharing conversation. My INCREDIBLE sister managed to give me that for my birthday by setting aside time for a video call first thing in (her) morning and mailing me 11 cards filled with hand-written encouragement from my Family in Ohio. I cried as I read each letter; thank you, TBC, for loving me so well! I finished the night with Pho and Bingsu (THE BEST form of the snow-cone/shave-ice you’ll ever find. Korea has perfected this art #justtrytofightmeonthis) with my best friend J- and the two interns currently here. My 26th birthday ended up with the joy and celebration I had hoped for!

I shared earlier that I hoped to have 100 primaries by June 13, but I was laid real low with a nasty strep throat infection for 12 days in May. Combine those with my 8 days off while in Mindanao, and I ended up with 87 primaries at the half-way mark. (I’m not worried, though. We’ve had a number of months where primary opportunities had to be split 3 ways, and we’re entering our busiest birth season these next 4-5 months, so I’m hopeful I’ll still get 200 before I leave late-March/early-April 2020).

Pho at J- and my favorite Vietnamese place, with interns H- and K-
Matcha Bingsue and Banana Berry Bingsu (seriously, you GOTTA try it!)
“Ice cream” + best friends = Happy 26th birthday to me

I’ve done a lot a soul-searching this month, hoping for some grand revelation as I pass through my half-way mark. But I don’t really have anything monumental. I just finished reading through all my previous blog posts, beginning with the most recent and finishing way back in last July (!), and I can see patterns and progress. I have consistently had highs and lows these past 9 months (and I don’t think that’s going to change), but I really am starting to feel more settled. Language and culture are still so far from mastery, but I’ve got a bit of a grip on it now. I can sit at a table and listen to a first-appointment-interview between a midwife and a new patient completely in Tagalog and come away with a sense of what was discussed. Pretty great for 9 months of learning only on my own. #ifidosaysomyself

I’ve been meditating on a statement from sermon from my Alaskan-home-church, preached from 1 Samuel 16, where David is anointed as King. The Pastor noted that this anointing took place 25 years before David got his crown and actually begin ruling as King; God anointed David with His Spirit long before “the real work” began. One basic sentence from that sermon has been echoing in my mind:

God gives His Holy Spirit so that we can endure great conflict.

As I’ve thought more and more about this statement, I’ve realized that so often I think it’s my circumstances or my own immaturity that’s the root of the difficulty in my life, even in relationships. I’m beginning to see that in difficult relationships I have been connecting “forgiveness” with a transformed outcome; this keeps me thinking things hadn’t changed (the relationship is still difficult) so I obviously haven’t forgiven. That’s actually not true, none of it is. I can forgive, and things can still be hard. I can learn more language, and things can still be hard. I can get better at handling life situations in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way, and things can still be hard. God has already poured out His Spirit upon me, and there is still difficulty in my life. God keeps bringing this passage from Deuteronomy into my mind and my speech these past few weeks:

“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place…”

Deut 1. 29-31

We need to remind ourselves of the truth, all the time. God goes before us, He will fight for us; remember how you’ve seen Him fight for you/provide for you before (Egypt)? Remember how He didn’t abandon you when you got yourself into the worse mess, and when things were dark, and hard, and confusing (wilderness)? The image of God carrying me (us), “as a man carries his son”, through my current difficulty just as He has the whole way up to this point, that’s strength that goes down to my bones.

In the words of a favorite song of mine (a song sung at my Bible school graduation, and again at a friend’s wedding): “God has been faithful, He will be again”. It is easy to see the hard I’ve been through, and the hard I’m in now, and be intimidated about how most of that likely won’t change. But I fight to choose to see “God has been faithful, He will be again”. Not that “faithfulness” = the difficulty resolved and gone, but that His Faithfulness = the same power that has brought me through Egypt, and the wilderness, and up till now WILL sustain me for the next 8 months (and all the new and hard waiting for me after that when I’m in South Asia for 6 weeks living with a dear friend, and then back in the States working through re-entry and reverse culture shock!). #reversecultureshockisnojoke You guys might get tired of this narrative: “it’s hard, it’s been hard, and it will be hard, but God has got me through up till now”. But that’s all I got. Arguably, that’s all any believer has. “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”. Can’t ever sing those words without bursting into tears.

Sometimes He takes the hard away (hooray for victories!!), but sometimes He “carries us as a Father carries a child all the way to this place”. God has been faithful, He will be again, even in the midst of great, enduring conflict.

Praise Reports for my 9th month!

-Because I have all the support I asked for to pay for tuition, I have been able to start supporting the newest midwife at Shiphrah. I give monthly “preceptor payments” to each midwife as part of my monthly expenses here, but this newest midwife has not been receiving payments because she isn’t technically a preceptor yet. She IS, however, a dear friend, a single mom, and really hurting for any extra income. This month’s gift came right as she was struggling to find money to replace her badly leaking roof before rainy season hit full-force. She had tears in her eyes to receive the surprising payment. (I share this only to say: thank YOU for giving me the ability to help meet this need.)

-I had a wonderful birthday!!

-School starts next Friday! I am praising God that I will have had more time just as an apprentice when I’m purely counting months than I will while doing apprenticing + school (10 months done so far, 8 to go).

-A new intern came this month who will be here until December. She’s from the States and is working directly under J-, TLC’s social worker, so I don’t see her a lot, but it’s going to be really nice to have an English-as-a-first-language familiar face that will stick around for longer than 4 weeks!

Pray for me:

School starts in 6 days. Indie Birth has a set up of three 10-week trimesters per year (for 2 years), and we do 5 classes each trimester. I have no idea to what extent throwing online school into my life here will change things, I just know I’m gonna be busy. Pray for discipline and creativity while I figure out what school looks like. Being on-call 24/6 (I take 1 day off each week as a Sabbath) + not having internet where I live will likely require a lot of flexibility and determination.

-More and more, I’m feeling at home at Point of Grace, my church here. I’m helping to lead worship about twice a month, and beginning to connect with the other members. I still have such high ideals, and I find myself wanting to have the same level of intimate, life-on-life connection I’ve had in my previous home churches, but I keep reminding myself that those relationships developed over years. I find myself wondering more and more if I’m ever bound to have this elusive “home” I have been looking for (even before I began my life here in the Philippines). Between being a Third-Culture-Kid and a Citizen of Heaven, I think the truest parts of me are never going to feel fully settled until I’m in Glory. Pray that I’ll persevere in putting in the time and effort to develop the relationships God has placed around me within Point of Grace, trusting His timing and His provision to give me (and them) what we need as we keep trying to “stir one another up to love and good deedsandoutdo one another showing love and honor”.

Mindanao Mini-series, part 3: “Ramadan-cranky is a real thing” and other confessions…

Fun Maranao word for today: puasa = (PWAH-sah) = fasting. While I didn’t learn enough Maranao to make conversation during my 6 days in J-‘s village, I came to recognize this word pretty quickly. Ramadan brought hunger to the forefront of everyone’s mind, and everyone in the village I met was curious if I was fasting (and they all seemed surprised when I told them I was!). Since returning to Taytay, I’ve found I keep getting “puasa” confused with “puso” (the Tagalog word for “heart), which, as you’ll read below, is pretty ironic…

(Don’t worry about the ring. We just wanted to get a picture together the day before Ramadan began.)

So I have written (extensively #longwindedtalkersmakelongwindedbloggers) about my experiences in Mindanao, but I think I need to share a bit more about my impressions, lessons and takeaways. Buckle up, it’s time for a ride on the honesty train!

About three days into my time in Mindanao, I realized that this brief experience was altogether new on a number of fronts. 1) This was my first full immersive experience in a foreign context (all previous international seasons of life have involved living with westerners in some way) and 2) this was my first missions/life experience were I was the only Believer in a Majority that is full of the very people my heart is most burdened towards. And I was starting to see that this all this new was just as hard as it was exciting.

Added to the newness-foundation is the fact that this week was my first time doing a Ramadan fast (note: I did drink water during my fast, which most devout worshippers would say made my fast pointless). I have Christian-fasted (that fake word hurts to write, but there are significant differences that I believe mandate the awkward specifier) many times; it’s been a pet-fascination of mine, learning what fasting in the Bible has looked like, studying why God would want us to fast, etc… As a matter of fact, I was inspired by a close missionary friend who is part of a team that requires each team member to take a weekly 24-hr period off (a mandated Sabbath of sorts), knowing that boundaries in ministry are almost impossible to maintain if you wait for a free minute to rest. And in this 24-Sabbath, team members are urged to fast. The idea of fasting on my day off at first seemed backward; “why would I choose not to eat on the day when I have the opportunity to go out and eat something fun as a way to relax?”. But this urging is based in the heart of encouraging team members to seek solace and refreshment where it is most truly found: in Jesus’ Presence. As I said, inspired by this friend, I have done this type of fasting give-or-take monthly, and the journey has been incredible. But I digress…

Ramadan fasting was a completely different world for me. Like many other parts of that faith, the Ramadan fast has a lot of particular rules and requirements that were foreign to the freedom-in-Christ that I’m used to (arguably, what an opportunity to swing the pendulum of modern Christianity back towards the rigorous discipline that many modern believers would argue is “going through the motions without having the right heart”. #findthebalance) I could talk about all the unique particulars I found interesting, but I mostly want to address the things I learned about myself while fasting with J-‘s family.

But maybe, first let’s take a peek behind the curtain. I imagine some/many of you are wondering why I decided to fast and cover my hair while staying in J-‘s village. Certainly I am not required to do either, and my doing so could be seen as a confusing mix of signals about my personal beliefs,  but I decided to lay aside my liberty for a few Gospel reasons:

  1. I was a guest of the family and wanted to respect the normal patterns of their life (and the lives of their neighbors).
  2. While the practice of a woman covering her hair in this region is often a clear sign of that woman’s religious beliefs, it is also their cultural expression of modesty. While I don’t want to be confusing or contradictory in my speech or behavior about my faith, I also know that I, as a white single female, will already be in the spotlight and seen as somewhat of a spectacle. In an effort to be modest in a way that makes sense in their context (a Biblical principle), and with an intention of wanting to remove as many barriers between myself and those around me, I chose to cover up. I could not cover with the intention of being clear that I believe different than those around me, but that choice might reduce anything I say/do as impossible to recognize over the noise of my perceived immodesty. Being modest in a way that makes sense to them would “get me in the room” so to speak, allowing me to start friendships and conversations that would let me share more of my heart.
  3. Fasting with J-‘s family would give me a shared experience with them, creating a uniquely intimate memory.
  4. Fasting according to these rules would increase my affection for Christ.
  5. The laying down of my liberties in a heart for those around me is a reflection of Christ (Phil 2).

Neither an exhaustive nor an eloquent list, and if you’re confused or curious, I’d be HAPPY to chat with you individually about my current convictions and perspective. But, back to our regularly-schedule programming…

I wanted to share what I learned through my time with J-‘s family and the 4 days of fasting I did while living with them. These past months I had been working my way through John Piper’s “A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer”, reading a chapter each day I chose to fast, and I’ll share this quote:

“One of the reasons for fasting is to know what is in us… In fasting it will come out. You will see it. And you will have to deal with it or quickly smother it again.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. When you’re living in a tropical climate without AC and you’re not allowed to drink anything or eat anything from the start of sun-up to the end of sun-down (4am -6pm roughly for us), let’s just say energy and patience runs thin (out) by around 10am. You spend the day dreaming about what want (“ice cream”, “pizza”, “brownies”, “insert-the-most-delicious-food-you-can-think-of-here and add a tall glass-of-something-cold-and-wonderful”), but when the time comes to break your fast and you FINALLY get to answer that belly that’s been yelling at your for hours, you eat a few bites and find you’re full and still dissatisfied. I am learning to see this constant-dissatisfaction as a gift from our good God: our fickle hearts so often think we’ll be satiated with temporal things, but we aren’t made for them. And another note:

“The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower.”

John Piper, “A Hunger for God”

While fasting with people in a faith centered on works, I really saw how that concept is true. Despite my best intentions, I knew that I did not give the patience, love, grace and courage I expected myself to extend to my friends that week, but I know God’s hand was in that. I was humbled to see, once again, that I can’t do what I’m called to, and that God’s amazing faithfulness more than fills in the gaps I leave in my wake.

From my prayer journal written moments before Taraweeh prayers:

“… I found myself getting short with J- and I cried out to You for strength. Thank You for giving it to me. And thank You for the testimony you are weaving through my actions here. This family keeps saying, ‘You really are just part of the family” and J- has said multiple times [when her family expressed concern about not having Western food for me] “Jessi is not picky.” She even told her family, “Jess is like the best person to bring somewhere. She is very flexible; she is ok with anything.” Your grace is smoothing out the rough edges; may Your glory come from all my efforts here.

I ask that You would keep my heart in check. You don’t require abstinence from food for specific hours to earn Your approval, forgiveness and eternal rewards/provision (1 Cor 8.8), but the fast You require asks more of my heart than merely my physical discipline (Is 58.6-12)…

This is where the true missionary work happens. This is my first time in full immersion; no outsiders, all foreign languages [locals in J-‘s village spoke a tribal language and a regional dialect, neither of which was Tagalog which I’ve been learning], all foreign food, all foreign customs. And I, as well as my companions, are all hungry, short-tempered and on edge. Fasting is, as You would have us do it, a dying to self and I’m seeing in a whole new way that cross-cultural living is dying to part of myself too.”

I really am not a huge John Piper fan (calm down, we can still be friends), and since this is probably the only book of his I’ll ever finish, I’ll end with one last quote:

“When you take your stand on the finished work of God in Christ, and begin to drink at the River of Life and eat the Bread of Heaven, and know that you have found the end of all your longings, you only get hungrier for God. The more satisfaction you experience from God, while still in this world, the greater your desire for the next. For, as C.S. Lewis said, ‘Our best havings are wantings.’”

John Piper, “A Hunger for God”

My best Having will always be my most Wanting. I pray that He is your Having and Wanting, as well, and let’s keep praying that He would be Had and Wanted by those fasting all around the world this month.