Author Archives: jeanneharrison

Why Having More Babies Isn’t as Crazy as You May Think

The first time a kind stranger peeked at my newborn baby and gushed, “Oh honey, treasure every second!” I almost burst into tears.  Not because I was so touched, but because I was so tired.  We were standing at the entrance to the mall–me, my baby, and my Shamu-sized postpartum belly–all three of us staring at this sweet lady with her abounding supply of freedom.

I wanted to say, “I’ll try!  I’ll try to treasure every second, and you try to treasure every second of the eight hours of uninterrupted sleep you’re going to get tonight.  And treasure every second you’re going to roam this mall in total freedom, buying clothes that will fit your skinny waist, and shirts that aren’t breastfeeding accessible.  And while you’re at it, treasure all the discretionary time you’ll have in the next decade while I watch Dora, and take temperatures, and settle fights, and pretend to be a human jungle gym, and birth more babies, and clean puke off my clothes.”

Instead I just smiled and waddled off–me, baby, and Shamu.  That was round one for me.  My very first baby.  And boy, was the learning curve steep.

Two weeks ago I gave birth to baby number three.  My third gorgeous little daughter.  She arrived three weeks early, in such a massive hurry that despite having two previous c-sections, I delivered her naturally with no drugs (and a whole lot of screaming!)  It was the first time I experienced a baby being laid on my chest the moment she was born.  Later, the midwife told me she would never forget the look on my face.  It wasn’t pretty or serene (Clint snapped a picture, so I know!)  It was a look of complete shock.  Somewhere in the midst of all the pain 16-IMG_0016and hysteria, I had completely forgotten I would get a baby out of this ordeal.  My mom (who thought this one might be a boy, despite the ultrasound’s verdict) asked me later if it registered that she really was a girl.  I told her that in that moment I wouldn’t have cared if she was a monkey.  I held my little baby as they stitched me up, and I never felt more comforted in all my life.  I didn’t examine her, or talk to her, or try to nurse her…I just abided with her, quietly knowing that she and I together had done something extraordinary.  We each went on a journey–scary and unknown–and we met in the middle.

This time, if a kindly stranger tells me to treasure every second, I think I will burst into tears.  Not because of my lost figure or freedom, but because I so ardently understand that the seconds truly are numbered.  They are grains of sand slipping through the hourglass, never to be returned.  That’s the funny thing about motherhood.  You start off with so little on your plate, and it feels like you’re absolutely drowning.  And yet the more you add, the more joyful it becomes.  Because somewhere in between adding more babies, and more diapers, and more laundry, you also add more perspective.  You realize there are worse things than a long night, and challenges really do pass, and tiny toes don’t stay tiny forever.  You know cribs turn into beds, and strollers turn into bikes, and the chubby cheeks making fish faces today will be wearing your makeup tomorrow.

And so, in these past two weeks, as I treasure every second, one verse keeps coming to my mind: “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah.  So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen 24: 67).  Is it busy and hectic and messy having three children?  Of course it is!  Have I gone to bed at 8pm every night this week?  Yes I have!  But this time around, the baby isn’t the exhausting, overwhelming part.  In the midst of all the scheduling, and carpooling, and cleaning, the baby is my Rebekah.  She is the comfort in the chaos.

Welcome to the world, darling.  We love you.
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Here’s to the Woman Inside the Mom

I love this blog for many honorable reasons.  But I also love it for one selfish reason.  It’s mine.  All mine.  I never realized what a commodity that could be until I became a mom.  In the beginning, I was only asked to give up little things–time, sleep, my waistline.  And then they started crawling and I surrendered a little more–tidiness, order, all of the keys on my laptop (which, FYI, can actually be popped right off.)  Then one day I blinked and there they were–chattering away a mile a minute, going to pre-school, making friends, getting their feelings hurt, asking big questions, challenging my authority, drawing me pictures, jumping in bed to kiss my very pregnant belly and perhaps ride it like a cowgirl…  And I realized there wasn’t a square inch of my personhood they hadn’t entirely and eternally invaded.

I love them with these dry, un-manicured hands that wash their dishes and scrub their faces and brush their hair and tie their shoes.  I love them with these swollen ankles that race around town taking them places.  I love them with this horrifyingly out-of-tune voice that sings them to sleep, and lays down the law, and tells them stories about when I was a little girl.  I love them with this face that will probably wrinkle up like a prune by the time I’m 45 because it’s so used to smooching small cheeks and making silly faces.  I love them with the eyes that always know where they are, the ears that hear their cries even when daddy is snoring, and the mind that remembers Tuesday is Johnny Appleseed day and we must wear red to school.  I love them with the soul that begs God for their salvation, and I love them with the heart I have lifted out of my chest and tucked away in theirs.

Truly, I love this lot of mine.  And yet, at the very same time, there are days when I go to a coffee shop and see college girls writing papers and giggling about boys, and I remember what it was like to have a mind that was completely my own.  To be consumed with nobody else’s problems.  To think about nobody else’s needs.  To dream dreams just for me, and pursue ambitions just because I could.  I remember what it was like to have things that were mine.

This blog is one tiny corner of my world that’s all mine.  It’s the place where I remember that there’s more to me than grocery lists and Windex spray.  And for one or two hours, when I sit down in this virtual world, I don’t think about the crusty broccoli under the table or the mismatched socks in the hamper.  Instead of looking outward, I look inward.  I think about the woman who picks up the broccoli and sorts through the socks.  I think about how she feels, what she needs, who she is.  It would be so easy for me to lose her.  In the mayhem of everyday life, it would be easy to go through the motions and then collapse in front of the TV.  To grow completely out of touch with the woman inside the mom.  To shush her, ignore her, numb her…until one day she bursts into tears at the dinner table and everybody wonders why.

That’s one of the reasons I write.  Because I need to stay in touch with that woman.  I need to know how she’s doing.  I need to speak the gospel over her heart and life.  Otherwise, she won’t make it.  Sure, she’ll still flip pancakes and drive carpools, but underneath it all her heart will grow hard and her spirit cynical.

With all that being said, I’m posting today because in the next few weeks my life is going to get crazy.  In the midst of holiday hoopla and an exciting new job for my husband (hooray!), we are going to meet our third little daughter in just two weeks!  Yes, yes (to the kind onlookers in the grocery store), my hands are going to be very full…but so is my heart.  And as my home gets louder, this blog is going to get quieter.  For the next few months I will miss you, and the way the woman inside of this mom gets to connect with the woman inside of you.

But believe me, even in this crazy season, whenever I get the chance I will still slip away and find time to check up on the woman underneath the nursing tops and smudged mascara.  I will find the time to speak gospel truth over her.  And I hope that sometime this Christmas, you too will be able to slip away, mix up some hot chocolate, and spend time with the woman inside of you, and with the God who loves her so very much.
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Merry Christmas!

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When Homemaking Becomes Idolatrous

prostrationBack when I was learning how to drive, my dad used to say, “You drive the car.  Don’t let the car drive you.”  He said it whenever I was going too fast and starting to lose control. I thought about that expression a lot last week.  It was one of those stomach-virus, up-all-night-with-vomiting-children kind of weeks.  Toss home renovation chaos and 32 weeks of pregnancy into the mix, and I was left with a simple choice: either escape to Starbucks the moment my husband got home, or risk internal combustion.  “In other words,” I explained to Clint one afternoon, “this cup of coffee–and more importantly the silence surrounding it–is a matter of life and death.”  He let me go.

The moment the scent of macchiatos wafted through my hair, my mind started to clear.  I thought about all that I was “escaping”–five loads of post-vomit laundry waiting to be folded (for the past three days now), endless bickering over an Elsa doll I would’ve paid a thousand dollars to multiply into two, enough toys on the living room floor to start my own business, enough crumbs on the carpet to feed a village of mice…

“You manage the home.  Don’t let the home manage you.”  Hmmm…  Suddenly, I was fifteen years old again, trying to drive a car that was completely out of control.  It’s so ironic that something as worthy as the calling to manage a home can become one of the greatest sources of idolatry and sin in my life.  It’s been this way for me for a long time now.  I’m the kind of person who would rather clean my whole house, then race to pick up the kids from school looking like I just escaped from a refugee camp, rather than risk returning to a home that looks like a refugee camp.  It’s just my thingthe idol I am always drawn to.  And you know what the truth is?  It really has nothing to do with the house at all.

When everything is clean and orderly around me, I feel like my heart is clean and orderly.  I feel like I’m in control.  Like I’m successful.  And that is what drives me.  It’s that God-like feeling (delusion really) that I can manage the messes in my heart by managing the messes in my home.  But as all neat-freaks know, it’s as fleeting as a clean countertop.  And here’s the really ironic part: all the time I’m parading around like a goddess in control of her universe, the house is actually controlling me.  It’s governing my emotions and reactions.  Dictating my choices and attitudes.  It’s not my minion, it’s my master.  Why else would I feel the need to escape?

And it’s not just limited to cleaning either.  As I prepare to have another baby, my nesting instincts are on over-drive, staggering beneath a mountain of paint samples and Pottery Barn catalogues.  Is it so bad that I want my whole house to look beautiful?  To be a warm and inviting (…and maybe slightly envy-evoking) place?  Ach, the balancing act!  I wish I could sort through the attitudes in my heart like I sort through the kids’ toys:  “Desire to bless my family with a beautiful home?”  Fantastic, we’ll keep that.  “Egotistical drive to feel good about myself?”  Yuck, into the garbage.  “Longing to serve others?  To enjoy and embrace my calling as a homemaker?”  Awesome, we’ll keep those, too.  “Competitive, materialistic spirit, consumed with earthly things?”  Trash!  But the bad motivations in my heart aren’t like the onions I can just pluck out of my toddler’s dinner.  They’re woven in deeply, like a virus.  What I need is the antidote.  I need the true answer for the aches and desires of my heart.

I need to remember that this longing to “nest” is really a longing for security and stability.  It is my heart’s cry for a place of belonging.  And into this deep heartache, Jesus offers security, identity, and purpose.  He looks at me (and you) and says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).  He looks at me (and you) scrubbing vomit out of the carpet at 2am and He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  He looks at me (and you) racing through dishes and diapers, carpools and catalogues, trying our very best to just be good enough, and He says, “You have been crucified with Me, and you no longer live, but I live in you.  So live this life on earth by faith in Me, because I love you and I gave myself up for you” (Gal 2:20, paraphrased).

Security, identity, purpose.  Hope, strength, grace.  How foolish to believe we could find these things in a can of paint or an organized playroom.  Does this mean we toss in the towel and sign up for a guest appearance on Hoarders: Buried Alive?  No…tempting as that may sound.  You and I have been called to a race (Heb 12:1).   It started the moment we surrendered to Christ, and it will end the day we cross the finish line and land in His arms.  We must keep running, but just as importantly, we must ask ourselves why we are running.  Are we running to be accepted, or are we running because we already are?  Are we running for the heavenly prize, or an earthly one?  Oh how tragic it would be to cross the finish line with a “perfect” home and a lifetime of aimless running (I Cor 9:24-27).

Photo Credit

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Why the Vaccination Debate is So Nasty (And Why It Ought Not Be)

vaccine-diplomacyOf all the Mommy-War debates, I can think of few that are as emotionally charged as the war over vaccines.  Does that make me want to avoid the topic?  Like a nuclear missile!  But (like a nuclear missile) that also makes it so important.  My goal is not to re-hash the hundreds of arguments for or against vaccines.  Rather, my goal is to answer a simple question: As Christian mothers, how should we approach this sensitive and volatile topic personally, among friends and strangers, and in our social media testimony?

When I set out to answer this question, I started by asking myself why the vaccination debate is so heated.  I think there are three predominant factors.  First, it involves personal heartache.  Many (if not the majority of) mothers who choose not to vaccinate have what they would call a “vaccine-injured child.”  They truly believe vaccinations have had adverse effects on their child.  In some cases, the conditions their children face are extreme, lifelong, and even deadly.  Whether or not vaccines are to blame for these conditions, the point is these moms (who are not stupid, nor short on research) truly believe they are.  My children are vaccinated, and I have not experienced adverse side effects.  However, I can imagine how outraged, confused, and afraid I would feel if I thought my kids were suffering because a doctor told me to do something that I believed hurt them.

But unfortunately, this issue is also emotionally charged because it has communal implications.  Whether or not you believe in “herd immunity,” our society still functions in support of it.  In other words, our government and medical professionals believe immunizations are in the best interest of society at large.  That’s why you’re still asked to present an immunization record at kindergarten Open House.  It’s why doctors talk about mutations of previously eradicated diseases emerging as the anti-vaccination movement grows.  Whether or not you agree, you can understand why vaccinating parents find this scary.  Ironically, it’s the exact same fear non-vaccinating parents feel–the fear that something poses a threat to our children.

The final reason I think the debate is so heated is because it’s a high stakes issue.  I’ve seen articles and videos that claim infants have died from adverse reactions to vaccinations.  On the flip side, I’ve talked to doctors who claim they’ve seen infants and children die from vaccine-preventable diseases.  Any way you look at it, fear, suffering, and the desire to protect our children are the primary emotions driving the war over vaccines.  Our fleshly instinct is to respond to these emotions with all manner of ungodliness.  Both sides are guilty.  For brevity sake, let me summarize some of the sentiments I’ve heard and/or read:

Anti-Vaccines Pro-Vaccines
Pride / Condescension “I love my babies too much to put such-and-such chemicals into them.” “I love my babies too much to put them at risk for preventable diseases.”
Hatred “I hope your kids end up injured by a vaccine so you change your tune!” “I hope your kids catch a disease and die!”
Judgment “Parents who vaccinate are un-researched, blind followers.” “Parents who don’t vaccinate ought to be jailed for child abuse.”
Selfishness “This isn’t about your children.  I’m not thinking about your children at all!  This is about my children.” “I don’t care what your story is, if your kid isn’t vaccinated, keep him away from my kid!”

The problem isn’t that we have an opinion on this issue.  It’s not even that our opinion is bound to differ with someone else’s.  The problem lies in how much we value our opinion.  Biblically, I believe Christian moms are free to stand on either side of the debate.  I don’t believe there is anything inherently sinful about vaccinating or not vaccinating your children, so long as you are submitted to God and motivated by love for Him and your kids.  But, it is sinful to elevate this issue above Christ.

Before you assume you’re not guilty of this, here are some hard questions I’ve had to ask myself:  Does thinking (or reading) about this issue ever evoke feelings of hatred or judgment within me?  Has it ever made me wish suffering on someone else?  Do my words and lifestyle reflect that I’m more passionate about this topic than I am about the gospel?  Does it consume my thoughts and/or control my emotions?  When others think of me, is this issue one of the first things they think of?  

Yes, this is a high stakes issue.  But when it comes to how we interact with it, there is something even greater at stake: our testimony to a watching world.  Vaccinations impact this life, but our testimony for Christ impacts eternity.  How foolish we would be to sacrifice something of eternal value for the sake of an earthly cause!  Am I saying it’s wrong to share your opinion on vaccinations?  Of course not.  But if you value your opinion to the point that it causes you to sin against others (in thought, word, or action), then for you this issue has become an idol.  In essence, you are more devoted to it than you are to the mandates of Christ.

Let me be the first to admit, I’m on the guilty side of this reality.  This issue has stirred arrogance, judgment, and anxiety in my heart and mind.  The only way I’m “de-throning” it in my life, is by fighting fear with the true, biblical antidote.  The fact is, the solution for fear and suffering has never been found in “winning” the external war.  You can’t get rid of the turmoil in your heart by converting the world, one tweet at a time, toward or against vaccinations.  The only true antidote is faith.  If we truly believe that all the days ordained for our children are written in God’s book (Psalm 139:16), that He alone is the author of their lives, wiser than any parent and stronger than any threat, I believe it would change the way we approach this debate.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the mom who hopes other kids suffer because their mother doesn’t agree with me.  I don’t want to be the mom who turns unbelievers off to the gospel because of my testimony over a spiritually gray issue.  Like the Psalmist, I want to be the kind of mom who says, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom (or what) shall I be afraid?”  The kind of mom whose heart, passion, and legacy cries out: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:1, 4).  Only then, will I be able to take a stance on this issue with love, humility, freedom, and peace.

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How Much Should a Mom Minister Outside the Home?

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Tug of war.  That’s what comes to mind when I think of this question.  On one end of the rope, I see this narcissistic, household-consumed version of myself who dreams about Pottery Barn bedding and pre-school drama to the neglect of all the people beyond the four walls of my home.  On the other end of the rope, I see this frazzled, crazy version of myself delivering homemade casseroles to every sick family in church while my own kids eat microwavable corn dogs in front of the TV.

How do we find balance?  I always assumed I just needed to find the “middle of the rope.”  Which is a very vague way of saying, “just try harder to be, well…balanced.”  If you could see my schedule now, I think it would look fairly balanced on the outside.  I serve in two different ministries at church, which helped me say “no” to serving in a third ministry outside of church.  We spend a few evenings a week with others, and a few at home by ourselves.  But the truth is, this isn’t really an outward question.  It’s not a logical, “what does your schedule look like?” kind of question.  It’s an emotional and spiritual question, often laden with guilt, presuppositions, and preferences.  A heart question.  And as we all know, our schedule can look ship-shape while our heart is in turmoil.

On Sunday night I dropped my kids off at our church nursery so I could serve at a youth event.  It was a whiny, reluctant drop-off because “What?!  So-and-so-friend isn’t here tonight?!”  Being the godly mom that I am, I promised them each a cupcake when the event was over, and said good-bye.  As the youth band played I thought about…my kids.  And my kids, and my kids, and my kids.  “Oh God,” I prayed, “I want to be present here tonight.  I want to serve these high school students.  Help me recognize that I’m called to more than just my family.”  And as His peace washed over me, a new thought occurred.  Maybe ministering inside and outside the home aren’t on two different ends of a rope. Maybe, in God’s perfect design, they actually work together to make us better at both

Think about it like this: how do we become the kind of women who have the character and wisdom to shepherd those outside our home?  By first being faithful inside our home.  A reader once referred me to an article in which a married blogger was reluctant to have children because she didn’t want to shortchange her ministry.  The blogger explained that when she got married, she felt like she took a “back seat” to her husband in ministry.  The last thing she wanted was to have children and be rendered entirely invisible at their church.  The blogger’s conclusion was to abandon gender roles, whereby she and her husband could do all things interchangeably.

The reader who referred me to this article was understandably confused by it.  “Is this the right perspective?” she asked me.  In my opinion, no.  It’s not.  I can say that with confidence because the Bible flips this perspective upside-down.  In Titus 2:3-5, Paul instructs, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Clearly, God is passionate about the home.  So passionate, in fact, that one of the chief ways he wants women to minister to other women is by training them to be faithful in the home!  How can we fulfill this mandate if we’re never home learning these lessons ourselves?  In this way, our home isn’t an obstacle to ministry, it’s a platform and training ground for it.

On the flip side, I also believe that as we embrace God’s calling to serve those outside our home, we become better wives and mothers to those within the home!  Think about it like this: what message are we sending our children if we’re constantly consumed with them?  More importantly, is it a biblical one?  Growing up, my mom imparted many lessons to me without ever saying a word.  As she counseled sobbing women on the sofa, I learned that she was more than just my mom, and that there were things that were more important than playing tea party with me right now!  I learned that there was great suffering in the world, and one of the ways we could love Jesus was by loving others.

So how do we find balance?  I think it begins with that popular word we all love so much…submission.  If you resent the way your family limits your freedom in ministry, you need to submit to the biblical truth that God has called you to serve your family, trusting that as you obey Him, He will groom you to more effectively minister to others.  If you idolize your family to the neglect of the rest of the body of Christ, you need to submit to the biblical truth that the best way to love your family is to make Jesus primary, trusting that in doing this, you will be a better wife and mom.  Either way, the answer lies in submitting our own preferences and personal agendas to Christ.

Clearly He has called us to both the home and those outside of it.  That can only mean these two mandates are not at odds with one another, but rather, working together to make us the women he wants us to be.  Forget tug of war.  Instead, picture a bicycle with two pedals pumping in unison.  One propels the other forward, and vice versa.  It’s the only way the bike can balance.

If you still want some practical application, here are a few questions I’ve been stewing over as I check my own heart:

  • Do I regularly meet my husband and children’s needs for love, attention, and affirmation?  If they were honest, what would they say?  
  • Is the way that I manage our household a blessing or a burden to my family?
  • Does it concern me when I hear that others are suffering?  Does my prayer life reflect this concern?  Do my actions?
  • Am I open and sensitive to God leading me to serve others, or am I quick to assume “I’ve got my hands full”?
  • Is there an area outside my home where I have felt burdened to serve God, but have not obeyed?   Is there an area outside my home where my husband has challenged me to serve God, but I have been unwilling to even consider it? 
  • Has my husband, or a spiritual mentor, ever suggested I may be over-committed in ministry, to the detriment of my family or my own well-being? 
  • Why am I motivated to serve my family and others?  Am I motivated by love for Christ, or love for myself?

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Paper Bag Scrapbooking

P1060601When one of my crafty MIL’s friends visited last week, she left us a surprise: all the materials necessary to make our own paper bag scrapbooks.  Say what?  My thoughts exactly.  As someone who abandoned old-fashioned scrapbooking the moment I discovered Shutterfly, I never imagined turning a lunch bag into a keepsake.  But my five-year-old was enchanted.  Every day, from dawn ’til dusk (and once at 4am in the morning), she asked if we could make her paper bag scrapbook.  So, we did.  Turns out, we love this kid-friendly craft!  It’s simple enough to finish in a few hours, and full of customizable options (paper, photos, stickers…) that will leave your little one with an extra-special keepsake.P1060612

You will need:
3 small paper bags
hole puncher
ribbons (to bind your book)
scissors, glue (or double-sided tape)
photos
scrapbook and/or construction paper
any other scrapbook embellishments

Steps:
1. Fold your paper bags in half.  Open them and punch two holes down the middle crease.  Thread three strands of ribbon through the holes and tie in a bow on the outside of the scrapbook.

Use any color paper bags

Use any color paper bags

2. Decorate each page of your scrapbook any way you please.  My daughter loved picking which pictures went first, and what paper and embellishments went with them.

3. Use the pages with the top portion of the paper bag as “pockets.”  We filled some with photos, and others with hand-drawn pictures. P1060618

4. Other pages will include the bottom portion of the paper bag (the rectangular part that makes it stand upright).  You can either glue this part shut, or use it as a little flap to include captions, small stickers, or “surprise!” photos. scrapbook

You can see both sides of the paper bag in this picture - the "pocket" and the "flap."

You can see both sides of the paper bag in this picture – the “pocket” and the “flap.”

In the end, your final product will look something like this: P1060621 P1060620 P1060619 snowman

Oh…and like this!
P1060609.

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What Everyone Should Know about Raising a Child with Special Needs

When Dana Hemminger asked me to review her new book about raising a child with Down Syndrome, I readily agreed.  Knowing Dana’s blog, I knew the book would bless me.  But to be honest, I was motivated for one other reason: sheer curiosity.  BookCoverImage

In 1987, Emily Perl Kingsley coined an analogy to describe the experience of raising a child with disabilities.  In the analogy, pregnancy is like planning a trip to Italy.  Parents eagerly pack and dream and make preparations with Italy in mind, only to deliver their baby and realize the “plane” has landed in Holland.  Naturally they’re shocked, grieved, and confused.  Nothing is as expected.  But eventually, as they learn to adapt, they realize Holland is beautiful in its own way.  Dana borrows this analogy for the title of her book, Reflections from Holland.  

The Shameful Truth
Here’s what we moms who have only been to Italy don’t like to admit: Holland scares us.  We’re curious about it because, on some level, we fear that a journey there might destroy us.  Much of that fear is due to the fact that Holland is entirely unknown territory.  But these past few weeks, that changed for me.  When I sat down with Dana’s book, I thought she was going to teach me about raising a child with Down Syndrome from a biblical perspective.  And she did.  But she did so much more than just that.  Dana invited me onto the plane with her.  She let me climb inside her heart and journey to Holland, beginning from the very moment her pregnancy test was positive.

DSCF9075_editedAs a result, reading Dana’s book felt like reading her diary, and I found myself unable to put it down.  The lessons weren’t grouped in clever phrases or listed in simple steps.  Instead they were woven into her life.  Shimmering on the surface of her tears.  Rising from the ashes of her prayers.  They were everywhere.  In the big moments when Benjamin endured open-heart surgery at two months old, and when his parents (and I!) cried as he finally took his first steps at nearly four years old.  And the lessons were in the small moments, when Dana opened a Christmas card with “perfect” pictures of a friend’s baby, or listened to her 8-month-old daughter say “Mama” before her 4-year-old son had ever said it.

What Everyone Should Know about Raising a Child with Special Needs (or Why You Need to Read This Book!)
Of all the things I learned from this book, 3 things especially stand out:

Ignorance is hurtful.
Before reading Reflections from Holland, I had no idea how many medical challenges Down DSCN2189Syndrome can present, including hearing and vision loss, heart problems, seizures and more.  I knew it caused developmental delays, but I underestimated those as well.  By the time I had journeyed with the Hemmingers in and out of hospitals, through multiple forms of therapy, and heard their desperate prayers for their son, I, too, felt the sting of insensitive comments like: “Just wait until he does learn to crawl; you’ll be wishing he didn’t!”

In one of my favorite chapters, entitled “Help that Hurts,” Dana gives several examples of ignorant comments like this, and graciously explains why they are hurtful.  I was so grateful for this knowledge.  In my opinion, it is invaluable.  As the church, one of our greatest callings is to minister to people in their suffering.  But sometimes we have no idea how to do that, because the form of suffering is so foreign to us.  Educating ourselves is crucial in becoming equipped to love others as Jesus does.

Everyone will face disappointment in parenting.
This book is about so much more than Down Syndrome.  The reality is, we are all going to face disappointment in parenting, whether or not God calls us to Holland.  This book is about experiencing God in the face of that disappointment.  It’s about laying our plans and our dreams on the altar, and delighting ourselves in God’s will for our life, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s not what we had in mind.

Hope in Christ withstands every storm.
In other words, you can do more than survive Holland; you can thrive in it.  When it came to parenting Benjamin, almost nothing went according to Dana’s plan, from the smallest details of the delivery to the greatest challenges presented by Down Syndrome.  For some people, this DSCF8919would justify lifelong resentment and bitterness.  But there was one crucial key to Dana’s ability to thrive in Holland–she made Jesus her treasure.  She chose to treasure Christ more than milestones, or expectations, or appearances.  And in so doing, she found great comfort, overflowing promise, and abundant reasons to rejoice.

This is a book well worth every mom’s time.  Initially, when I sat down to write this review, I was going to say that by the time you close the last page, you will feel like Dana is a close friend.  But perhaps it’s more fitting to say, by the time you close the last page, you will wish you had a friend like her.

For more from Dana Hemminger, visit her blog or buy her book on Amazon.

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