Pregnancy is a Journey – 14 Stages

14 Stages of Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a journey, and quite honestly, something that I never thought I would experience (read more about my story here). It is a miraculous blessing to be able to carry a child and I am so very thankful for our sweet little boy, Micah. My pregnancy presented many challenges, but I will spare you from ALL the details.

Your body goes through mental and physical stages before and during pregnancy; some of which I was not prepared for. Having a baby is a huge life changing experience.

Here is what I’ve learned about the normal changes you go through before and after conception.

The Common Stages of Pregnancy:

Stage 1: You’re body knows it’s time. I can’t explain it, but I can definitely say that my “biological clock” went off like an unexpected time-bomb. Everything inside me said that I was ready to have a baby.

Stage 2: Your husband will look amazing. It’s a weird phenomenon. Suddenly when you’re preparing to create a baby, your husband will seem even more good looking. Maybe this is the way God intended it to be?

Stage 3: Your pregnancy test says positive. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a small part of me was super freaked out after seeing the + sign on the stick. I had about 10-thousand thoughts go through my brain – what have I done, are we really ready for a baby, am I going to get really fat, will my baby be healthy, why am I not crying? Yep. Despite the fact that this pregnancy was planned, I still had a small moment of dread. Honestly, this is normal. Turns out that I’m not the only woman to experience these ridiculous thoughts. Yes, it gets better. And no, not every woman experiences these thoughts.

Stage 4: Your body changes and it’s weird. Some women might disagree with me on this, but hear me out. With a first pregnancy, it’s a bit unexpected how drastic your body begins to change. Things start to get bigger, hair growth increases EVERYWHERE, your hormones are at the surface (hello adolescent acne!) and your clothes get tighter. No matter what people say, you may not be prepared for how quickly your body changes.

Stage 5: You’re sick, tired and stuffy. Every woman is different. Some women get morning sickness, some women are plagued with extreme fatigue. All the while, your nasal cavity suddenly plugs up and you’re wondering if it’s a cold or pregnancy.

Stage 6: You are feeling cute and pregnant. Finally! Some of your sickness and fatigue has passed as you enter the 2nd trimester. At this stage people can tell that your pregnant without awkwardly staring at your belly and wondering if you just got fat or if you’re expecting. You might be transitioning into maternity clothes now and still maintaining a reasonable weight. Enjoy this stage – it doesn’t last very long.

Stage 7: You are puffy and fat. Instantly you go from feeling super cute to a giant whale with swollen ankles and fingers. Not every woman experiences swelling (and if you didn’t… well good for you!). This is also around the time that people have no question whether or not you’re pregnant and start making comments that aren’t always the most gracious.

Stage 8: Everything hurts. It will start to feel like your body is breaking – you get hemorrhoids, your legs ache, your feet ache, your back aches. Honestly, I’ve endured chronic pain for half of my life and pregnancy pain on top of my normal pain has been quite the challenge. All I can say is – remember that this doesn’t last forever (THANK GOD!) and you will feel well again soon.

Stage 9: You are tired… again! It’s hard work growing a baby and that little person growing inside you is now sucking every ounce of your energy and nutrients. At this point you might start worrying about things that are out of your control or wondering how exactly the whole birthing process will go for you. Have an honest conversation with your doctor! I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that giving birth totally freaked me out. My only advice is to get in your own head about it and stop listening to those around you. Tell your doctor if you have any concerns and then develop a “birth plan“.

Stage 10: Is this ever going to end? You’ll find yourself wondering the answer to this question at least 100 times a day. You will start to feel whiny and less thrilled about being pregnant. People will keep telling you that the pain is worth it and you will resist the urge to yell at them. You may also start to resent certain clothing and do whatever necessary just for the sake of comfort.

Stage 11: Starving yet full. You will reach a point at the end of pregnancy when your bladder and stomach reduce to the frustrating size of an eye dropper. Baby needs to eat, yet you can’t get enough food in your stomach. This is when the experts tell you to eat 6 small meals a day instead of 3 big meals. Oh, and your bladder… you need to drink a ton of water to stay hydrated but this also means you’ll be in the ladies room for what seems like every 20 minutes. No joke.

Stage 12: When will this baby arrive? Believe me, I get it. I was 36 weeks pregnant with a 7-1/2 pound baby and no end in sight. You’re beyond uncomfortable, tired of sitting on the toilet, feeling hot, hungry and ready to be done. If you’re one of the lucky ones that is still mobile, take advantage. If you’re like me and experiencing difficult back pain, take it easy… read a book, find a TV series on Netflix, and enjoy the quiet before your baby puts an end to that.

Stage 13: Oh, the anxiety! Right at the end, I began to feel a ton of different emotions after the baby officially dropped into my pelvis. I knew the end was near. Nervous, excited, happy, scared. What if he screams a lot? What if I don’t know what to do? Will my baby be okay? Will I be okay? All of these feelings are normal and will melt away the instant your child enters the world.

Stage 14: Congrats! You’re a new mom. Enjoy every precious moment and thank God every day for your little miracle.

… Pregnancy is a journey. My sister calls it a state of wellness, but I disagree. It is a long journey that seems to last forever, yet goes so fast all at the same time. You’ll learn more about yourself in 9 short months and discover strength you never knew you had – which continues into parenthood. In the end you’ll look back and forget all the bad stuff… because all that matters is the little bundle of joy in your arms… finally!

God’s blessings to you on this miraculous journey. Remember He will never give you more than you can handle.

On a side note, I pray for those that have experienced a difficult loss or pregnancy. May God bless you and comfort you!

*Copyright 2014 WordsByMara. All rights reserved.

Guest Post – What Breast Cancer Takes From You

 

Breast-Cancer

Guest Post by, Rose Thomas - She returns for a second guest post on Words By Mara to share the story of losing her mom to breast cancer. The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness month – which has affected many of us on a personal level. Read Rose’s story of loss and hope.

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“Linda Sue Thomas was an inspiration to everyone around,” at least this is what people tell me about my mother because I do not really remember much about her because she died when I was almost 10 years old.

I do remember that she was a stay-at-home mom because she did not have a job like other children’s mothers. She decided to give up the American dream of a two-income family that would help provide two cars and a new house in order to be with me every second of the day. She was always there for me to help me throughout my childhood problems from helping me up and caring for my scrapes and bruises after falling down our hilly, brick-paved, driveway for the tenth time to drying me off after I finished playing in the winding stream or drizzling waterfall that ran through our eight acres. She was also always there to try to keep her mischievous, tomboy, baby girl from getting into more trouble.

My mom always made certain that God was my number one priority. She sacrificed her wants and needs for me to go to outstanding Christian schools, and she also made sure that I was in church every time the doors were open. She instilled in me to know the difference from right and wrong, and encouraged me to be the best Christian I could be for God.

When I was growing up, my older sister played with me, and I considered her my “bestest friend in the whole wide world.” But soon she had had enough of my childish games and was ready to start her adult life because she moved out of my parents’ home when I was five years old. My mother became my best friend then, because unlike most children I grew up in the country where our nearest neighbor was three miles away, and they had no children my age. My mother was my playmate, my confidant and also my classmate and my teacher because I was also home schooled by her during my kindergarten and first grade years. She wanted to continue the tradition of home schooling that she started with my sister but after first grade she knew something was physically wrong with her so she decided to discontinue the home schooling.

In 1985, the doctors told my loving, dear mother that she had breast cancer. I was six years old at the time so I did not really understand what was going on. I believe God helped the pain from the cancer because many people prayed for her, and I do not believe she would have lived as long as she did if God had not helped her. She refused to have chemotherapy, whether it was pride because she did not want to lose her hair or whether she was just trying to protect me from realizing how sick she was. However, this changed when Dad helped her remove the bandages as I looked on at where once a breast had been, but all that remained was a very small, bruised, scar.

After she regained some of her strength, she started hauling me with her as she browsed tons of health food stores. She also started eating very healthy, from popping beta-carotene vitamins to eating dried apricot seeds. I did not realize it at the time, but she was doing her best to survive and see her little girl grow into an adult.

As I moved from first to third grade (I skipped a grade), I noticed that my mom was still active, but she was getting weaker. She stayed inside more rather than playing with me outside like she used to, but maybe this was because she and Dad just bought and moved a house from Dothan, AL, to where we lived, and she had to help remodel and try to make the house livable.

She and Dad were never able to complete our new home because Mom fell sick again as I started fourth grade. She went back to the doctor, and her medical team performed numerous tests, and they discovered the cancer had moved to her lungs. She still refused to have any form of chemotherapy even though the pain was unbearable at times as the cancer continued to spread and erode her lungs so that breathing became nearly impossible at times.

During one of her many stays at the hospital, about six months before the end of her life, I remember getting chicken pox and this is the longest time that I was away from my mom, and this is when I started realizing how sick she really was because I was not allowed to see her for about three to four weeks because the doctors did not know if she had ever had chicken pox so they did not want to expose her or other patients to it. I remember being so scared that I would never see my mom again during this time. After I recovered, I noticed that she continued getting weaker, but the thought of death never crossed my mind because a nine year old child is not supposed to outlive her mother.

My Aunt Sandra (my mom’s sister) came up from Miami, Florida, to be with us toward the end so she could help cook, clean, take care of Dad and me and to be a comfort to Mom. On October 4, 1988, nineteen days before my birthday, my dad and Aunt Sandra came and checked me out of school and somehow I knew something was terribly wrong. As soon as I saw both of them they told me that my mom had passed away that morning, I fell down on the floor and broke out into loud, uncontrollable sobs. Dad lifted me up into his arms and took me to the waiting car and after this is a blur. The next thing I remember Dad, Aunt Sandra and me going to my sister’s mobile home (next door to our house) to tell her of the sad news. She got into the car, and we embraced and cried all of the way to the funeral home to pick out the casket and take care of the other preparations for burial. What is ironic to me is that October is now Breast Cancer Awareness month, the month my mom died.

So many people close to me have died that I cannot seem to separate the actual funerals in my mind, but the one thing I do remember about my Mom’s funeral is that tons of people admired and respected her because hundreds showed up for her funeral to show their respect for her and our family because her life was an inspiration to many.

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Endo-WriterRose is a writer working for RMA Texas in San Antonio, TX. She has an adventuresome outlook on life and thinks that she can survive anything life throws her way. She graduated from Troy University with a Bachelor of Science in journalism/business. In her spare time, she enjoys international travel, scuba diving, kayaking, hiking and anything else that involves getting her feet dirty or wet.

 

*Image taken from NationalBreastCancer.org

Tribute to the Kaldas Center

Thank-You

When I moved to the Fox Valley, I was in desperate need of a doctor specializing in the treatment of Endometriosis. It was purely by the grace of God that I found Dr. Rami Kaldas of Kaldas Center for Fertility, Surgery & Pregnancy (previously at Women’s Care of Wisconsin).

I walked into our first appointment with uncertainty and discomfort because of my past experience with some doctors. This was, of course, to no fault of Dr. Kaldas.

During our first appointment it was discovered that my previous laparoscopic surgery in Milwaukee was done incorrectly and therefore caused Endometriosis to grow back ten-times more painful. He also suspected that there was more going on than just Endo and promptly ordered additional tests, which resulted in scheduling my excision surgery.

One of the most impressionable qualities that I can recall from our first appointment was Dr. Kaldas’ concern for my pain. He was compassionate, caring and extremely knowledgeable on women’s health. I left the appointment feeling as though this doctor actually listened to me – which wasn’t always the case when I was seen by others.

After further testing, it was discovered that I also have Adenomyosis and a Polycystic ovary. I honestly don’t think my pain would have improved if it wasn’t for the diagnosis and treatment of all 3 conditions/diseases through laparoscopic surgery. The surgery also helped relieve some of my most debilitating pain issues.

Truthfully, I have endured 15 years of chronic pain and have also survived a traumatic brain injury… the pain from Endometriosis is still some of the worst pain I’ve experienced in my life. Without the help of Dr. Kaldas, I would be living in a significant amount of pain. Though I still experience chronic pain, it is certainly more manageable now.

After 3 years as his patient, it came time to ask Dr. Kaldas the biggest question of my life…. Was I able to get pregnant?

Let me take a step back and explain my experience at a clinic in Milwaukee. The doctor that diagnosed me with Endo told me after the surgery that this disease could cause fertility issues and, therefore, I might have a hard time getting pregnant. This doctor also told me that my tubes were blocked. As the patient… all I could hear was, “You can’t have kids”. Unfortunately, I held on to that doubt and uncertainty for years.

When my husband and I met with Dr. Kaldas to discuss my options for pregnancy… there didn’t seem to be much to discuss. He confidently stated, “You should get pregnant right away”. He gave a few instructions around my cycle and told me to call him if we have any issues after a year of trying. He has always been positive about my health and reassuring in our ability to conceive. Despite my own doubts, my doctor was uplifting and never once told me that it was impossible. As a woman with Endo, I needed this kind of honesty from a doctor!

To my surprise, we were blessed with a child right away. It was a blessing and huge relief to know that my doctor was right. And it would not have been possible without his incredible surgical skills and accurate diagnosis. It is amazing how God answers prayers and puts people such as Dr. Kaldas in our lives.

My husband and I were blessed to welcome our son, Micah, in June 2014.

The staff at Kaldas Center is unlike any other clinic that I’ve been to. They are the only clinic I’ve ever known to celebrate your victories, big and small. They share in your joys and are there to help in times of need. They are an amazing group of people that encourage and take care of you along the way.

Dr. Kaldas has shared several success stories with us regarding patients that experienced years of infertility and finally was able to have a baby with the help of his expertise. Women that may have lost hope are comforted with his ability to listen and effectively manage complicated pain.

I know because I was one of those patients.

To the doctors and staff at Kaldas Center and Women’s Care… thank you! We are incredibly blessed to have met you and gain our greatest joy all because of your committed care. Thank you for all that you do and have done for us and many other couples. Thank you!

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Military Friend’s Chance for a Dream Wedding

Military Wedding

Guest Post by Jonathan Volodymyr - Here is a special post from my husband today. Show your support for the military by voting for the extraordinary couple. Please read and vote today!

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Military Friend’s Chance for a Dream Wedding

Just a few days ago we were celebrating our nation’s Independence Day. In the United States we are extremely blessed. People all over the world desire the freedom we have in our country. People are still fighting for freedom throughout the world including my native birth land of Ukraine. Perhaps we can reflect on the freedoms that we have as a nation and the opportunities that others long for all over the globe. But, these blessings of freedom come at a cost. Most are familiar with the ultimate price and the void it leaves to loved ones; there are also less known sacrifices. The example I will write about today is about one service member who postponed the opportunity of love in a relationship because of his love and duty to our country. You can see more about his story in a Wisconsin news story here. Help Northwoods soldier win dream wedding

I had the great privilege as have many others of serving with him. We served together during the period of the “Surge” in Iraq for a C Co 1-121 FA (SECFOR) from Wisconsin. Our mission in 2006 and 2007 was proving security for logistical convoys throughout Iraq. Within the first 3 months of our tour of duty our unit was already nearing 1,000,000 miles of convoy operations. Here’s a Stars and Stripes article about our unit. Camp Navistar soldiers log nearly 1 million miles I will write about this more later to remember those I’ve served with and celebrate the memories we had as a brotherhood. Truly a fine group of soldiers and I am proud to have served with them. I am thankful to God for them. It is impossible to summarize it all in one article, but I’ll write more about this later.

Below is the submission that Captain Matthew Mangerson of the Wisconsin Army National Guard made in a $20,000 Military Wedding Contest in Milwaukee. They are finalists! This soldier is truly an exemplary leader. He has earned praise not only from those he serves with but also nationally. This article from the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs after his last deployment to Afghanistan attests to this. He will be the first to tell you though, it is because of those he serves with and diverts the focus back to those he leads. Wisconsin Soldier recognized nationally for leadership following historic mission

In my personal experience, I have witnessed how the men I served with rally around positive things surrounding those we served with. This is a way to connect and celebrate in positive new memories. The story of Cpt. Matthew Mangerson and his fiancée are in a wedding contest in Milwaukee is such an example. You can help them by voting here. #VoteMattandMichelle Voting ends at 4:00 PM central time. A victory for them would also be a cause to celebrate for others that have had the privilege of serving with Cpt. Mangerson.

Here are the words of Cpt. Matthew Mangerson from the contest submission:

“What Matt has learned about Fruit, Flowers and Fiancées: I have always been told that fruit takes time to ripen and that flowers are most beautiful after they’ve fully bloomed, but I have learned that you can’t fully appreciate these truths until you’ve lived through them. In September of 2001, I met the love of my life. Sadly, it took me 11 more years to actually realize it.

Michelle and I first met during her freshman year at Ripon College in our Spanish 201 class. After a semester of anonymous classroom cohabitation, we were partnered together for a theatrical group project. Michelle was (and continues to be) my intellectual superior in most things academic; so I’m sure our first friendly interaction was more a product of patience than affection. She had to do most of the initial translation work for the project and also took on the majority of the speaking, ensuring that I did and said as little as necessary, for the good of all.

Looking back on it, I like to think that it wasn’t my lackluster initial impression that kept us from being little more than casual acquaintances for the rest of our college experience. Thankfully, we live in an age of digital, social networking with amazing technology and connectivity. Immediately upon graduating from Ripon, I entered the Wisconsin National Guard and Michelle went on to graduate school at Eastern Illinois for a Master in Historical Administration. Within four months of becoming a qualified Field Artillery officer, I was sent on my first deployment to Iraq for 15 months.

Over the course of the next six years, I was deployed twice to Iraq while Michelle pursued her career goals by traveling around the Midwest. With the help of Facebook she and I stayed in contact over the years. Occasional updates and casual chitchat late at night was just enough to keep our fruit on the branch along with a few flower buds. Michelle likes to joke that she always knew when I was single since those were usually the time my messages would pop up on her screen. Luckily, fate saw fit to have us both living in southern Wisconsin in early 2012.

Fate can be wonderful, but she can also be fickle. Shortly after we began to see each other and reconnect – as if on cue – I was notified that I would be deploying overseas yet again. I would be leading my own unit of missile launchers for a nine month mission in Afghanistan. It was a great honor, but also bittersweet. Just as we were relearning what a great team we could be, Michelle and I would be split apart. I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about pursuing a relationship with another overseas deployment looming in the future. To make matters more difficult, Michelle was also relocating and starting a new and exciting job in Chicago at The Field Museum.

But once again, Michelle proved how much smarter she could be than me. Her feelings for me and faith in us never wavered. She stood by my side and supported me through the challenges of my deployment every day for 11 long months. I cannot lie – it was hard to be apart. However, that time provided all of the ripening and blooming in our relationship that I could ever hope for. In October of 2013, I returned home to a truly amazing woman and two months later, I knew she was the woman I was destined to marry. We both had to scrape together the last of our patience, but finally on April 4, 2014 I got down on my knee, pulled out a ring almost as perfect as her, and asked Michelle to spend the rest of her life with me. It has been a long journey.

There have been emotional challenges and unforeseen obstacles along the way. However, the fruit has ripened, the flower has bloomed and I now have the sweetest, most beautiful fiancée a man could dream of. The only thing that could make our story more perfect is if I could give her a wedding that is as much a dream to her, as she is to me!”

- Matthew Matthew & Michelle Wisconsin National Guard Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Guest Post – Suffering Through Misdiagnosis

Purpose in Pain

Guest Post by Rose Thomas - I connected with Rose over email and it has truly been a blessing to read her story. I can actually relate to Rose’s suffering through Endometriosis and being misdiagnosed. Read as she shares her story of pain, loss and hope!

Have you ever wondered “why me?”

Over the years I have wondered this many times, but I have learned to trust in God as my life takes me through a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I realized that God always has a plan.

In my junior year of college, I met a man and our relationship progressed very quickly. It went so fast that I felt like I barely knew him when I found out that I was pregnant with his child.

During the pregnancy, he became verbally abusive and threatened to get physically abusive several times. It was terrifying. I grew up in an abusive home and it devastated me that I had missed the warning signs. I would now be repeating the cycle and I would have to put up with the abuse the rest of my life as well as worry about my child being in the same situation too.

After 10 weeks of pregnancy, I suffered a miscarriage. I was devastated but at the same time I was breathing a sigh of relief because I was given the opportunity to be more selective about my future partner. Needless to say, we broke up not too long after the miscarriage and I haven’t talked with him since. I went through Christian counseling which really helped me with the loss of my child.

Ten years later in 2012, I was diagnosed with endometriosis after suffering many years with various womanly issues. I had always had really painful periods and ever since I was 16 years old my gynecologist began prescribing birth control to help with the painful cramps and heavy menstruation.

In my early 20’s I had two different surgeries to remove abnormal cells on my cervix and two years after I graduated from college, I was hospitalized for very painful cramps. I was diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) but after doing lots of research on both PID and endometriosis, I felt that I had been misdiagnosed. I already had quite a few symptoms and was showing signs of endometriosis.

Unfortunately, endometriosis is not the easiest disease to diagnosis, and it can only be truly diagnosed via surgery. It took six months of intense pain, working minimally before I was properly diagnosed. After seeing multiple doctors, enduring multiple tests and having two surgeries within a month and a half of each other (ablation first which yielded no results and then excision on October 31, 2012 which brought much better results – no pain!), I was finally able to get back to a normal life again.

During all of this, I was constantly praying and asking God, “Why me?”

Years prior to diagnosis, I had turned away from God because of several bad childhood experiences with the church as well as having multiple family issues, but I believe sometimes it takes a life-changing experience (or even a few in my hard-headed case) to turn back to God because you realize that you need Him. I began reading The Book of Job and realized that a lot of what Job went through also applied to me.

I believe that God was trying to teach me to rely on Him more and that my suffering was preparing me for something bigger.

I have been through many difficult times in my life. Losing both of my parents at a young age, suffering abuse, and dealing with a miscarriage and endometriosis has been tough. However, I am still alive and with the help of God I always wear an ear-to-ear grin with a contagious giggle to boot. Sometimes if I am going through current problems all of the past issues seem to overwhelm me, but I know that God put me on this earth for a purpose and that it will all be revealed in His time. I know that ultimately going through all of these problems it has left me a stronger, single woman that can survive anything with God’s help. So smile and know that He will always be there for you as well. *

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (NIV)

Isaiah 40:31

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (NIV)

1 Peter 5:10

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (NIV)

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???????????????????????????????Rose Thomas writes on behalf of RMA Texas. She resides in the big state of Texas where she lives with her two small dogs, Sadie and Flower. She thinks that if she can survive endometriosis that she can survive anything. She graduated in 2003 with a B.S. in journalism/business from Troy University in Alabama. Since then she has been a newspaper journalist, graphic designer, an English teacher in Tokyo, Japan as well as a marketing guru. In her spare time, she enjoys international travel, scuba diving, kayaking, hiking and anything else that involves getting her feet dirty or wet.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to RMA Texas.

Guest Post – Patriotism in the USA

MilitaryDeployment

Guest Post by Jenny Lorton - She returns for another guest post and I am always thrilled to read Jenny’s stories. This post includes a little a history and what patriotism means to her. Be inspired this Independence Day with a deep reflection on thankfulness and the blessings we have in the USA. God bless you all – have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Patriotism. Most people in the USA truly have some level of patriotism. I know I do. Mine started when I was a child, growing up in the Deep South. I was always taught to believe in our country.

My father is a Veteran of World War II. At 90 years old, he doesn’t like to talk much about the war. He says he saw things he would rather forget. And he wasn’t a willing “volunteer”, but he knew he had to do his patriotic duty. He was sent to the Pacific Arena and ended up in Japan.

I remember finding a few pictures in my Mother’s photo box of Daddy in uniform. I felt so proud of him. And that pride carried over into my teen years. I was in high school when the Vietnam War was ongoing. Some of my cousins were drafted into the war. And one in particular wrote me from Vietnam. I wish to this day that I had kept that letter. I have no idea where it is now. But the thing I remember most was that he cautioned me to not marry a serviceman. And that’s exactly what I did!

The founding fathers of the United States had a deep belief in God and country. Our laws, constitution, and all founding documents talk about why our country was to depend on the everlasting word of God. How far we have strayed from the ideal concept of the United States!

My first husband was in the Navy and we moved several times in his career (until our divorce). When he was stationed in San Diego, CA, he was onboard the USS Ajax, a repair tender. The ship was sent to a Pacific Fleet arena on deployment for several months. As we didn’t have children, we packed up our small apartment and I followed the ship to Japan. We spent three months there living in a Japanese house, several miles down the train track from Yokosuka. My first forage into how other people lived was from this vantage point. And what an eye-opener for a small town girl from Florida!

No central air conditioning or heat in the house. No carpet on the floors. No insulation in the walls. Only a small propane heater, used room by room. I realized that God had truly blessed me to be born in this time here in the US.

After his stint in San Diego, my husband was assigned to Subic Bay, Philippines. Another lesson about our blessings we have here in the United States. People lived in squalor right off the main gate of the Naval Base in Subic Bay. (Subic Bay is no longer a US Naval Base.)

The church my husband and I attended in San Diego sponsored a missionary pastor in the Philippines out of Manila. They asked us to deliver a van to the pastor for his church to use as a church bus. Needless to say, we didn’t know the rules and regulations of how to do this when we took the van. But our God always provides a way for His children and He provided a means for us to get the bus to the pastor.

When we contacted the pastor in Manila, he immediately invited us to his church for the weekend. We met him in Manila and then drove a couple of hours out of the city to a very rural area in the hills. The pastor was so proud to show us his church, which consisted of several posts with only a partial wall separating the main sanctuary (if you could call it that) from the kitchen area in the back. He had just installed a toilet when he learned that Americans were coming. The toilet was enclosed; however, it did not flush. You had to pour water into the bowl to flush it. There was only a faucet with cold water for the church. There was no pastor’s house attached. And for sleeping, we put two benches together with a plywood board over them to make a bed. And the pastor was so proud.

Am I patriotic? After seeing third-world living conditions, and how God blesses even people who, by our standards, have nothing, I believe with all my heart in the United States of America. God tells us to pray for our leaders and to “…be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1

We may not agree with the politics, policies, morals, etc., of our country, but we still have the best country in the world. We are given a privilege here United States, and we should thank God every day for what we have!

Jenny-LortonJenny is a retired civilian finance manager from the Air Force where she worked for 24 years. She resides in Warner Robins, Georgia with her husband and 3 dogs. In her spare time, Jenny is an artist and avid crafter. She enjoys helping and sharing the bible with others. A life-long dream has always been to write.

Guest Post – Is Social Media Your Time Vampire?

Social-Media

Guest Post by Veronica Eernisse - She is returning for a 3rd time! And this time, she is shaking up our view on social media with some honest self-reflection and questions. How much time do you spend on social media? Do you dedicate the same amount of time to the bible or church? This post really made me think about my own use of social media. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, Veronica.

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My pastor recently challenged us to think about what in our daily lives we put above God. What do we spend our time doing? Who do we spend our time with? What do we spend our money on? He asked us to think about whether our answers to these questions honored God.

I started to think about how much time I spend using social media. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest, I feel like I am constantly “plugged in”. I was challenged to look at my social media usage in relation to scripture.

Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

I follow 180 people on Instagram, 116 people on Pinterest and I have 510 “friends” on Facebook. Sure a lot of my interest with fellow users is because they are my friends and I want to stay up-to-date with the happenings in their lives. However, as I am sure most are guilty of, a lot of my time is spent being envious of what others have.

Seeing friends on vacation makes me wonder why they are lucky enough to afford to travel. When I was job searching, seeing a friend land a dream job made me jealous that I had yet to find a career. My jealousy would soon turn to guilt rather than being happy for others.

It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.

The world is constantly telling us we need more. If we had this or that we would be happy. As soon as we get what we think we need, it is on to something else.

Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

The word that stood out to me most in that verse is “idolatry”. It is a word we hear often throughout the Bible and in church. In the past I read through it. I knew I did not idolize anyone or anything over God, but how true was that? I spent so much time thinking that I needed more to be happy. Social media only encourages this for me.

God should be enough for us. Everything from Him is a blessing.

The whole concept of Pinterest is to “pin” items you want, places you want to go, clothes you wish you had and beauty tips to make you more feel more beautiful. This is the opposite of God’s Word. He says we do not need any of it… all we need is Him.

Colossians 2:9-10, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form and you have been given fullness in Christ.”

How amazing is that? We are so undeserving, but he has given us everything we need. God always provides. Regardless of how many times we are unfaithful to Him, he forgives us. We live for a faithful God who loves us unconditionally.

Through my study of Colossians, I was amazed with how much the verses were relating to a relatively new concept: social media. This summer I plan on putting my phone down and enjoying life. That’s not to say I won’t be sharing occasional (or maybe too often) photos of my adorable dogs, but I hope to spend more time reading my Bible than reading my newsfeed. Will you join me?

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VeronicaVeronica resides in Wisconsin with her husband Ryan and their dog-children, Shandy and Porter.  She enjoys taking Shandy to the dog park, going fishing and spending quality time with family.  She is blessed and can’t wait to see where God takes her and her family next. 

Guest Post – I Thought You Hated Me

Fisher-COVER-Dream-Devotional-Web (1)

Guest Post by Renee Fisher - I am humbled and excited to have Renee Fisher as a guest blogger this week. We “met” through iBelieve.com and have become friends over the last year. Renee inspires me as a writer and Christian woman. I am truly thankful for her friendship and, dare I say, unintentional mentorship. This post is part of an excerpt from her new book “Dream Devotional“. I hope her message inspires you today!

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“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” – (Matthew 6:24, NIV).

Each time I played the “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” game, I only had two options: love or hate. Either you loved me or I thought you hated me. I recently devoured another book, He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen. I am so impressed with this simple yet profound message that Jesus loves me.

He loves me. That is all.

I wonder how many of us are still walking the tightrope of God’s love? Wayne says, “So perhaps it’s time to toss your daisies aside and discover that it is not the fear of losing God’s love that will keep you on his path, but the simple joy of living in it every day.”

Love. Isn’t that what we’re searching for? Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of the day I would be loved. My father’s love wasn’t enough. I wanted romantic love. When God didn’t allow a relationship in my life to happen on my time schedule, I questioned Jesus’ love. I thought He hated me.

A hard lesson I had to learn was that God, in fact, loved me and not because of anything I had ever done. I’ll never forget walking the Oceanside Pier one night with church friends. We were participating in a beach outreach and giving away free hot chocolate with no strings attached. It was so simple. Jesus loves you; here’s some hot cocoa. And yet I found myself so offended. I was angry. If Jesus loved me, then why didn’t He (fill in the blank)?

That’s what I believed. I struggled with the gnawing emptiness inside of me. It wasn’t enough to be friends with God. I wanted a human relationship with human affection.

Wayne continues, “God feels the same way about you. He’s not interested in your service or sacrifice. He only wants you to know how much you are loved, hoping that you will choose to love him in return. Understand that, and everything else about your life will fall into place; miss that, and nothing else will make any difference.”

That profound revelation shook my faith. Solidified my love for Him. Jesus didn’t want me to do anything for Him. He loved me. That was all.

I am ashamed to admit that even after learning this lesson about love, I find myself working in other areas to prove my love. To earn more (fill in the blank). Isn’t this one of the biggest lies in our culture? If you’re married with children, you must be doing something right. If you’re without a spouse and/or children, forget about it. If I’m honest, I’m still playing the “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” game. Instead of love, I replace it with other concepts, such as a job title or my own abilities. Both of these lead back to my performance. My wrong motives. God’s love is not performance-based. Neither is my reward. As an author who speaks and writes publicly, I am once again ashamed.

This process hurts so much. But it’s been good. Cathartic. I can’t even say how grateful I am that God has cut through the bull to help me see my own sin. My selfishness. God wants me to be selfless. Whether or not God chooses to reward the works He called me to do this side of heaven is on Him. He should be enough because He is enough. Just like that time I learned that God’s love was enough when I was single. Just like I learned that ministry was enough without a job title or steady salary.

Dear Dream-Giver Jesus, please forgive me for playing the “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” game with you. Of course, you love me. Help me to see your love, feel your love, and receive your love today. Amen.

Has God allowed you to come to the end of your efforts so you could find out how much you are loved? Is your desire for others reward or for God’s?

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ReneejFisherRenee Fisher is an adoring wife to Marc and mom to their pit bull named Star. She is a spirited speaker and author of five books, including Forgiving Others, Forgiving Me (Harvest House, 2013). Renee is the editor and founder of DevotionalDiva.com, and loves nothing more than to spur others forward. She is on the Advisory Board for ChristianMingle, creator of Quarter Life Conference, and a Biola University graduate. Renee lives in CA and loves running on sunny days. An ex-introvert, she loves connecting with new people daily. Connect with her at ReneeFisher.com.

Guest Post – God Told Me to Wait

Waiting on God

Guest Post by Shannon Andersen - I am humbled to introduce a very dear friend of mine. Shannon shares her journey as a new parent and her son’s unexpected health challenges in the first few days after birth. As a new mom, Christian and friend… I admire her strength and willingness to share a rather difficult story. Her perseverance is inspiring and I hope this story encourages you today! I am blessed to call her a friend and beyond thankful that our children will grow up together. Thank you, Shannon!

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After learning the joyful news that I was pregnant with my first child, I started sending a daily prayer to God that I’m sure every parent prays, “Lord, please have my child be healthy.”  

Now, I’ve heard before that God will answer your prayers with one of three answers – Yes, No, or Wait.  However, through the experience of my son’s birth and the months following, I can testify that there is a possibility that He may answer with all three. Yes, No AND Wait.

“Lord, please have my child be healthy.” God told me – Yes.

At 20 weeks of pregnancy, I had a routine anatomy scan where they evaluate the baby’s growth and how his internal organs were developing. He looks perfect and healthy, they said. It was a relief to get a peek inside and know he was growing well. I felt I could put my some of my worries to rest the remainder of my pregnancy.

On February 8, 2014, God blessed my husband Ryan and I with a beautiful, peaceful, and healthy baby boy. I felt so blessed. We chose the name Bennett for him, which means “blessed”. I thought of those who had suffered through complications in pregnancy and birth. Why did God choose Ryan and I to be the lucky ones?

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

“Lord, please have my child be healthy.”  A few days later God told me – No.

Bennett did well his first day home. He was nursing well, made dirty diapers, and was doing great as far we could tell. However, on day two, we began to notice some changes. He became increasingly irritable, a change from his easy-going personality that he had shown us the days prior. We were not seeing any wet diapers. Were we just missing them? He was not feeding as well. Is it just a breastfeeding issue? We had a routine 2-day old check-up the next day and decided to ask then.

At the appointment, our nurse found his temperature to be alarmingly low – a sign of the body going into shock. Before we knew it, many other doctors and nurses filled the room with monitoring equipment. Eventually Bennett was scooped up and carried through the halls to the ICU.

The doctors and nurses worked on stabilizing Bennett, giving him a breathing tube and placing IVs. They were still unsure of what was causing his body to go into shock. The doctors also ordered a number of blood tests, x-rays and a spinal tap.

We were able to be with Bennett during most of this, but we were asked to step out of the room for some of the procedures. This is when Ryan and I were alone with our thoughts.

I’ll never forget Ryan saying to me, “He may not make it, Shannon. We have to prepare ourselves for that possibility.”

For the first time since the pregnancy began, I experienced a new feeling in my heart. Denial.

I was angry. Confused. Why would God give us a child, just to take him away four days later? Sadness. Why innocent Bennett? The reality hit me that God may say – No.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

“Lord, please have my child be healthy.” God’s final answer was – Wait.

Bennett was eventually diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, coarctation of the aorta. This is a defect where the aorta has a section of abnormal ductal tissue that starts to close a few days after birth, along with other normal fetal ductal tissue in the heart. The aorta delivers blood to the lower extremities and organs including the kidney, liver and intestines. This lack of blood flow to his organs is what caused Bennett to become so critically sick. This defect can be sneaky, as it often does not show itself until a few days after birth when that tissue begins to constrict and close.

We were thankful for a diagnosis, but what did this mean for us? The doctors told us surgery could correct this defect by removing the abnormal tissue. The surgery would need to be done at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee. Bennett received his first helicopter ride there that night.

His organs suffered significant damage from lack of blood flow which caused other complications in his body. He would need time to stabilize to give surgery the best outcome. Then he would need time to recover from surgery including learning to breathe and eat on his own again. The doctors said to expect a month or more in the hospital. God was indeed telling me to – Wait.

Though the doctors were confident, I fought daily with the thought that God might still tell us – No. We prayed for our baby’s health. Friends, family and even strangers were also including Bennett in their prayers. We were touched.

In His time, God answered our prayers.  Bennett’s organs healed with no permanent damage and surgery was successful. The recovery process was long and slow, but always positive.  Thankfully, day by day, Bennett’s health began to improve.

Why Did God tell us Wait instead of Yes or No? I’m sure there are multiple reasons God laid this challenge in front of us.

Ultimately, I believe God puts us through tribulations on earth for a few main reasons. They teach us lessons and build our character. They make us appreciate our blessings. They bring us closer to each other and closer to Him. God tells us to be thankful in all circumstances, for it is His will for us he that He uses for our benefit.

I ask that whoever reads this please say a prayer for the children who remain in Children’s Hospital. There were babies in the Cardiac ICU that were there before Bennett arrived, and were still there after he had left, with no outward signs of progress. I assume they are waiting for transplants. There were also children there that need multiple heart surgeries just to buy time until they can receive a new heart. Pray for their healing and peace for their families.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3,4

Donate to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Learn more about Bennett’s heart condition.

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ShannonShannon Andersen lives in Wisconsin with her husband Ryan, son Bennett, dog and cat. She is a trained Vet Tech, but currently she is being trained as a stay-at-home mom. Bennett continues to do well, reaching and exceeding all the “healthy baby” milestones.

Coming Soon on Words By Mara

Coming-Soon

Well… we are getting closer to the arrival of baby!

In the months to come you will read several guest posts by some rather amazing women.

I look forward to introducing you all to some new bloggers and few returning guests. You are in good hands while I take a little time off to prepare for and spend time with my baby.

In the meantime, catch up on some of my recent articles…

I will return and keep you all posted on the arrival of our baby boy. God bless you all!

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