Isabel’s First Birthday

Recently, I saw someone share a post that said something along the lines of “As a parent the days often feel never ending, yet the years fly by in the blink of an eye” And wow, did that resonate with me (already). It feels like just yesterday that Phil and I were on our way to meet our sweet baby girl (read that eventful story here) and now she is walking around and talking. The first year of Isabel’s life felt like a whirlwind in so many ways and I treasure each memory and every new stage of development that we have gone through. 

We were so blessed to be able to celebrate Isabel’s first birthday with dear friends and family; even some family from other states were able to make it in for the weekend.  With a lot of help from family, we had a beautiful spread of appetizer food, such as charcuterie board, veggie tray, chips and salsa, guacamole, two different salads, meatballs, and carrot cake cupcakes. Her birthday also gave us the opportunity to finally dedicate Isabel to the Lord, surrounded by our village (more on that later) and I am so thankful for Zoom and the ability to have family and friends from Pennsylvania take part in her dedication.

We asked people to write her letters to be opened on her 18th birthday, a tradition that we also hope to continue with our other children. For those of you that have had the opportunity to interact with Isa, you know that she is definitely not shy. She LIVES for parties and big groups of people. She had a blast running around and visiting with family. Watching Isabel eat her cake was, of course, a highlight of the day, especially as she proceeded to eat all of the berries off of her cake and pretty much ignore the icing. It was such a full day (in so many ways), and she continued to enjoy playing and running around until the moment I put her to bed where she fell asleep in less than a minute.

Birthdays, to me, are always special to celebrate the blessing of another year that the Lord has given us. As parents, it has even more meaning as we reflect on God’s provision and how he has entrusted us with our sweet little one year old. Each day she gets around faster and into more things, says more words and grows a bit sassier ;). She loves to pray and praise Jesus and even asks for her bible at night. I cherish each moment with our Isabel.  I think I mentioned before, but Isabel’s name means God is bountiful (or pledged to God) and both meanings are beautiful reflections of what God has done in our lives and we truly desire to continue lifting her life up to the Lord and raising her to know and walk with him.

“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” –Psalm 127:3

Our Choice to Homeschool

Lately my daughter, Isa, has been really enjoying “reading” her books, taking all the pieces off of her animal puzzle, and sticking her stacking rings inside of her stacking cups. I could watch her for hours; observing children as they learn and discover is one of the most incredible experiences. I already love being a homeschool mama and partaking in that journey with her. It sounds funny to say that, since she is only a year old. I haven’t really shared much about homeschooling before since we don’t have any “school-aged” children yet. However, learning starts at day one and our desire to homeschool plays a large role in the family environment that we are creating.

Phil and I knew that we wanted to homeschool before we were even married. Phil is the second oldest of 9 children and they were all homeschooled through graduation. I grew up in public school and when Phil and I were dating he asked if I would pray about homeschooling some day. It didn’t take very long for me to know that it is what God wanted for our future family. Homeschooling allows for flexibility for missions and traveling. It allows for much more individualization for each of our children’s needs, a much more interactive education, and gives much more family time. But it goes even deeper than that. 

So I want to share this journey with you. Please understand that it is not my desire to judge or insinuate anything about parents who choose not to or are unable to homeschool. I simply want to share what we have learned and discovered (and our personal convictions) and give others the opportunity to understand and think more about education and homeschooling. Phil and I both are convicted that our children’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development is our responsibility and we will be the ones who are ultimately held accountable for their development.

Recently, especially as I have taken my worldview class, I have started to have a deeper understanding of the influences in public education and how effective it is at shaping young, moldable minds. Many other parents that have chosen to homeschool or Christian private schools have increasingly adverse opinions towards public education. This was recently shared by a parent I know, “If you’re a Christian parent, keep in mind that the first waves of soldiers arriving on the beaches of Normandy had a better chance of surviving than your kids do of remaining Christians through the secular public school system + college. Generations of Christians have given the government control over their children’s hearts in a way that God never intended….” -Teresa V. So what do we do with this? As parents and Christians, where do we go from here? ;

As I stated earlier, for many of us, homeschooling is the direction we have decided to head. This is not to say that there aren’t strong and well developed Christians that have graduated from the public school system; there definitely are and parents can live very intentionally in discipling their children. However, the more research I am doing and the more conversations I have with people the more concerned I am about what is happening. I think a lot of people don’t even consider homeschooling because it isn’t even on their radar. Sending your children to school is just what you do. But  in reality, public education is actually a fairly new institution. John Dewey, who is known as the Father of public education was also a secularist and said “There is no God and no soul. Hence, there are no needs for props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room for fixed, natural law or permanent absolutes …. Teaching children to read is a great perversion and a high literacy rate breeds destructive individualism … the child does not go to school to develop individual talents but rather are prepared as “units” in an organic society …. The change in the moral school atmosphere … are not mere accidents, they are the necessities of the larger social evolution.”

There is a lot packed into that. But is clear that John Dewey had a secular agenda and he believed that public education could be used to influence the masses. Please understand that I know there are many wonderful teachers out there, I know some INCREDIBLE ones and teaching is NOT an easy profession. But you can do just a little bit of research and you will discover that many of the advocators for public education and educational policies are adversely against Christian (“religious”) values and desire to influence young minds towards their own values.

A teacher from the public educational system shared “For many generations, it has been the job of educators to do their best to teach students to be critical thinkers. Educators were expected to teach students different viewpoints and allow them to come to their own conclusions. When it comes to politics, educators were expected to stay neutral and share ideas from both sides, allowing students to come to their own conclusions. In turn, making them productive members of society.

In today’s climate, teachers are now being asked and pushed by administration to teach one sided stories that do not give students the opportunity to think for themselves. Administrations are pushing a one sided narrative that exposes students to the violence that adults are seeing on the news and justifying these actions as a fight for social justice. We are teaching a curriculum that is not appropriate for young children. Instead of teaching kids the social emotional skills that they need to be successful and cope in these trying times, we are taking away our children’s innocence and also taking away their ability to think for themselves.”-Anonymous 

As a parent this is very upsetting to me. I desire my children to know and follow the Lord, but I ultimately know that it will be their decisions in the end where they place their identities. I want my children to be well rounded, educated individuals who will research and make informed decisions, and have an impact on the world around them. Phil and I take full responsibility for our role as parents: “Fathers… bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” -Ephesians 6:4; and we know that for OUR family that means homeschooling our children. 

I am excited to share with you books, projects, and fun learning ideas that I do with Isa (and someday my other children). But my relationship with God is also a very integral part of who I am and who we are as a family. As we continue through this process of growing and learning, I will openly share with you, where we are coming from and what we have been discovering. I also want to share thoughts and resources from other parents and teachers. & I hope that our journey can be an encouragement to you and maybe for some of you, help to kickoff your journey into making an educated and informed decision about what is best for your family. 

Denner Family Update

As I write this, Phil is working through his second week of school….Hurray!! I can’t believe that we are here. After more than a year and a half of prep, 7 prerequisite classes, and a move half way across the country, Phil has finally begun nursing school! But I guess we need a quick recap of the last seven months, after all we’ve been in Illinois since the end of May.

Shortly after we arrived, Phil’s family left for Missouri (in case you are new here, we moved from PA out to Illinois to live with Phil’s family while he is in nursing school). This wasn’t the original plan, but with COVID-19, a work opportunity came up for Phil’s dad and so they moved there, temporarily. Phil was able to transfer to a Davita (the dialysis clinic where he worked since spring of 2019) location here in Illinois, while continuing to work on his prerequisite classes. I was SO blessed to not have to start working right away, which gave me so much quality time with Isa. I cherish all those extra snuggles, book readings, and walks with her.

This summer also gave me the opportunity to do more cooking and cleaning. This might not sound like a benefit to a lot of people haha, but for me it was. Obviously, the more exciting of the two is cooking. For most of our marriage, I had been working at least two jobs and was not home very much. Phil also worked a lot of hours, but since his day normally started a 4am, he was home earlier and so he ended up doing a lot of the cooking and cleaning. I did not do a ton of cooking growing up and when I lived by myself, I ate/cooked very simply. I really enjoyed trying new recipes and getting more comfortable with cooking (which is still a work in progress).

At the end of August, I started a job working with a homeschool curriculum company. I make phone calls to check in on families and see how I can be praying for them. I sometimes answer questions (or transfer to a consultant if I don’t know the answer), or am a sounding board for what people are going through. It has been a more emotional job than I originally expected (which I will share more at another time), but I feel beyond blessed to be a part of this ministry. On the side, I also work as a consultant for Usborne books, which is basically a homeschool mom’s dream (wonderful educational books for free or super discounted). Both of these jobs have allowed me to work from home and be SUPER flexible.

After my sister-in-love, Danielle, got married the rest of the family moved home from Missouri in October. The youngest four Denner kids are still living at home and are homeschooled. During the day my wonderful mother-in-law and the girls (the youngest 3) help take care of Isabel while I work out in the office. Not only am I able to pick the hours that I work, but I have also been able to continue breastfeeding, can put her down for some of her naps, work on her laundry throughout the day (cloth diapers make for quite a few extra loads), and take the day off if she is sick or really just needs some extra time with me. Now that she is getting older, she also has been able to come out to the office and play for a little, while I am making phone calls.

Isabel is almost 10 months old now; I cannot believe how the time has flown. She has quite the personality and entertains everybody around her. She makes the funniest faces and likes to talk and laugh nonstop. Isabel is quite laid back in most ways, unless you are trying to dress her or when she is eating (she growls the whole time and is very impatient). For the most part she sleeps through the night and is a good napper. We have definitely been spoiled with an easy child. Just in the last two weeks she learned to climb the stairs (she climbed the entire flight, the very first time), she speed crawls, and likes to walk along the furniture. She loves to dance, clap her hands, and is starting to communicate, with us, a lot. Every day she seems less and less like a baby, and I try to treasure every moment.

We have been living in the main house with Phil’s family, in one of his sister’s rooms (she is in the guestroom, as it is smaller). Originally, the plan was for us to be living in the Villa (a detached, 3 car garage that they are working to turn into an office and little apartment) on their property, but with the pandemic and being gone for so long, the project was put on pause for a while. At this point, the majority of things are done; it’s mostly just the bathroom that needs to be completed. People always cringe or ask how awful it is, when we mention that we are living inside with everyone. Honestly, it has not been bad. For the most part I have actually enjoyed it; it has been an adjustment, of course, and has had its share of stress and disagreements. But just because something isn’t super easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. I think we have all been learning and growing closer through the process.

The holiday season was a really enjoyable. Holiday events and traditions are extra fun in big families. Things like cutting down our own Christmas tree, Christmas cookie baking, and watching old Christmas movies like ‘White Christmas’. We were so blessed to get to see most of Phil’s siblings. In December Phil, also surprised me with a birthday trip to Florida and one last ‘fling’ before buckling down and starting school (I’ll share more details in another blog post).  Phil finished up with the last of the prerequisite classes right before we left for Florida. We enjoyed having more free time with Phil over the last month.

Now, until May of 2022, Phil will not be working, but in school fulltime. Currently, most of his classes are online which saves 2 hours of commute a day. This has allowed more study time, more time with Isa and other things around the house. This won’t always be the case while he is in school, so I am so thankful for the time we have now. I have been so spoiled to have so much help from Phil’s family so far and I look forward to the next 16 months, as I spend more time with our family, Isa continues to grow and learn, and Phil begins to work towards developing his career as a nurse.

Photo Courtesy of Danielle Trista Photography

My Word for 2021

In some ways, I am still processing through the past year. I think a lot of people probably have been.  I know that some people are miraculously hoping for 2021 to ‘get back to normal’ or be so much better than 2020. Yes, God can do miracles, but he doesn’t always choose to work that way. And no matter what, the things that happened over the past year won’t just disappear. So now we are left wondering what the future holds for us, for our country, and for the world.

As I look towards the future in 2021, I have been praying about what God has for me this year & as in the last few previous years, I asked him to give me a word for 2021. It didn’t take too much time before I knew; Contentment. I couldn’t help but smile-big picture speaking, it seems a bit ironic. In my experience, God often seems to work that way.  In the last few years, I have grown a lot in the area of contentment, but I still have so far to go.  At first the idea of contentment being my theme for my relationship with God and my life seemed a bit daunting. But as I continued to pray and process through last year and what I’ve been learning and where God is leading me, I know that it is just what I need.

On a personal level, I already know a lot of what this year holds for us. The last few years have contained a lot of changes and excitement; getting married, a few moves, career changes, and having our first baby of course. But this year will be more predictable.  We will be in Illinois with Phil’s family, Phil will be in school, and I will be working my job. I have lots of dreams and ideas for the future and sometimes it is easy for me to be so focused on the future that I am not really embracing the present; this also opens the door to comparison  when I see others who currently where I want to be.  I think this is normal for so many of us.

This year provides a HUGE opportunity for me to learn to be content with the predictable; where God has us RIGHT now.  The idea of contentment is overarching-of trusting God more fully, of being present in the moment, of finding the beauty in the everyday and of not missing the opportunity to impact others where God has me.  However, on a more ‘big picture’ level, there is a lot of uncertainty, upheaval, and distress going on around us. It is so easy to start to question God and get really worked up about what is happening in the world. God is also giving me an opportunity here- “Do you trust me? Will you choose to be content in me?  Will you choose contentment, knowing that my ways are higher than yours? And I know what I am doing?”

Looking forward, I am excited for what God has for me in 2021. Where are you at? Maybe you are still struggling to process through 2020, maybe this upcoming year seems bleak or hopeless to you. What is God calling you to this year? Has he given you a word/theme for the year? The world around us may seem out of control and your life may feel that way too, but God is in control. And He has so much MORE for us than we are often able to see.

In Conclusion: 2020

Wow. 2020. Where do I even begin?

In the middle of May I saw a meme joking about how the biggest waste of money spent in 2020 was for a planner. Hah. I couldn’t help but chuckle (even these photos were originally meant for a very different post). I don’t think anyone imagined how this year would pan out. Even at that point, I never imagined how true it would still be for many of us throughout the rest of 2020.

For so many, this has been a year of loss. Of disappointment. Of fear. Of confusion. Plans, vacations, and travel were cancelled. Many brides faced difficult decisions of postponing the day that they dreamed of or just deciding to elope. Families faced total rearrangement of schedules as children came home from school and people worked from home. People faced loss of physical community, the ability to mourn together, and many faced isolation. 

For, myself, I mourned the loss of my mom getting to be with me while I delivered my first little one(due to restrictions). We mourned not being able to celebrate and share our daughter’s first days with family and friends. We mourned the loss of the opportunity to for so many to meet her and say goodbye before moving halfway across the country. We mourned financial losses (as did so many others) 

& our losses were so insignificant compared to so many.

So many people faced momentous financial, job and/or business loss. There were those that lost loved ones or have struggled as they have watched loved ones mentally, emotionally, and physically decline because of the forced isolation. The Coronavirus is only part of the craziness of this year (expanding on the rest would require a whole other entry); but 2020 has felt like one ongoing lose/lose situation.

I have found myself crying out (on more than one occasion) to God asking, “Will NORMAL ever return?! What is the purpose in all of this?!” As I write this, a renewed sense of grief washes over me. There is also a frustration. 

Frustration, mostly towards feeling a loss of control. As humans we often plan and plan & we like to have ‘control’ over our lives (some of us, more than others). In reality, we really don’t have control…but it’s easy to forget until something comes along that just blows everything apart. 

My mother-in-law often says, “God isn’t up there wringing His hands.”

And it’s so true about everything happening now too. God knew everything that was going to happen this year and NOTHING is out of his control. It is so easy for people to get frustrated at God or say there must not be a God, or ‘why would He allow these things to happen?’ And of course I could go into a whole theological discussion about sin and brokenness…but maybe that is a blog for another time. God is omnipresent (not bound by time) and he has this HUGE picture that we can’t comprehend, and he knows what he is doing.

We can choose to succumb to the disappointment, hurt, and confusion of this year, or we can see 2020 as a wake up call. It is a HUGE reminder to us all, how little we really do have control over the plans of our lives. But what can we control?

We can control what we put our faith in.

We can control our responses to what happen.

We can control if we choose to learn and grow from a situation.

We can control how we treat others. 

I have learned this year that I really have no control over my plans…often times things won’t work out the way I foresaw them. But I can make the decision to put my faith in God and seek after him, no matter what. I can’t control what happens, but I do have control over whether I choose bitterness or joy. I can give up and live in defeat or I can choose to allow the Lord to change and mature me. I can’t control others thoughts or how they treat me, but I do control my response to them and whether I choose to love others or live in selfishness. 

Some people faced way more devastating losses and struggles than others; how can we support, honor, and encourage them?  When plans don’t go the way we thought…how do we choose to spend our time? Do we spend our time on things that won’t matter, or do we choose to pour into others and spend time learning and growing? As 2020 comes to a close, what will you choose? We can see 2020 as a waste, or we can see it as an opportunity to learn, to cherish the little moments (like enjoying the sunshine in the outdoors, a conversation with a good friend, or watching a baby learn to crawl). 

Choose hope. Choose encouragement. Choose love.

Putting All of Your Eggs In One Basket

Have you ever been in a situation where it felt like you were putting all of your eggs in one basket? A situation, where to the outside world, seemed like you were taking a really big risk? A lot of times, when we choose to put our trust in God we have to step out in faith and do things that really don’t seem to make sense to some people.

A few weeks ago, we FINALLY found out that Phil has been accepted into Loyola University’s accelerated nursing program!!

We were so excited (lots of jumping up and down, and hugging included :D). There were quite a few people who didn’t realize that Phil hadn’t already been accepted into the program. After all, we had moved the whole way out to Illinois. But also, maybe some people didn’t realize that there is only one program within reasonable driving distance that had the program that Phil needed. Where we previously lived outside of Philadelphia, PA there were about 6 different accelerated programs that Phil could have easily gotten to.

However, after we knew we were pregnant, we spent a lot of time praying and felt that moving to Illinois for school was the best decision. Phil already has a bachelor’s degree, so doing an accelerated program made the most sense, both financially and the length of time it would take. That also means he won’t be able to work. Having family available to help with the baby and allow me to work was necessary for us. They also have a small apartment on their property that they said we could live in during our time there (HUGE BONUS).

Considering all of this, it really didn’t make sense NOT to move.

It still was a huge decision, We needed to make the commitment to move before we would find out if Phil was accepted into the program. And then with the Coronavirus and other complications, we ended up not finding out until a month AFTER making the move to Illinois. Sometimes God speaks to people through dreams, other people, the Bible, etc. But sometimes, faith requires a bigger leap.

In our case, we prayed and prayed and then made the jump trusting God would catch us.

I recently heard someone share that many times throughout their life, they weren’t always sure what God was telling them to do or the direction He wanted them to go at the time. It was only OUTSIDE of the situation, looking back that they could see God’s hand all along. And I know that when I look back on my life, that has often been the case. In the moment it can be extremely scary. Sometimes He has made something very clear in the moment, and other times I thought I knew but wasn’t actually sure until later.

When I am in those scary moments, I have to reminded myself that God has never failed me & that He has ALWAYS provided.

A lot of people don’t understand certain decisions that we have made. And that’s okay. Some people don’t even understand why Phil decided to go back to nursing school since He already had a degree. But when you feel like God is leading you a certain direction, it often won’t make sense from the outside. It might not even fully make sense to you. And sometimes it may be a situation where there is a pretty big risk involved.

In a situation like ours, there may be only one outcome that would probably make sense, but you might need to move forward before all the details are worked out. When you hear the saying “…..put all your eggs in one basket” it normally starts with Don’t. But when you are following God, sometimes that’s what we need to do. Sometimes we need to follow God’s nudging, know that He will be there to pull us through. Are you willing to take that next step of FAITH? Will you put your faith in the God who has always provided and trust that He will CONTINUE to provide?

When we do take that step, there is so much more space for God to work in and through us. We are so excited for what God will unfold in this next chapter of our lives.

Our Move to Illinois

When I originally started writing this I was sitting in our last place, surrounded by boxes with our six week old daughter laying next to me on a blanket. It was our home for the last 15 months. Even with as busy as we were and how much we worked, we had so many memories there. It had become home. I won’t lie and say that I haven’t shed a fair amount of tears not just over leaving friends, but also over leaving our apartment. I definitely have a harder time with transitions and change then Phil does (thankfully, transitioning into parenthood was pretty easy for me so far, with all the other changes coming up). But it also may also be due in part to, the fact that this was my seventh move in five years-and that all my previous moves have been in the same state.

Even before that it was back and forth between school, various homes between mom and dad and other places that I stayed for short periods of time. I am in no way trying to complain, but it has been a lot. I will be so excited in a few years when we can fully settle down in a place of our own. At the same time, I cannot even express how grateful I am to God for our new home for the time being. Not to mention, getting to be so close to Phil’s parents and some of his siblings (I already love them, but am so excited to have more time with them). I know God will continue to challenge and teach me, but I have already learned so much through those difficult, unknowing, and in-between times.

1.) To quote the cliche saying “Home is where the heart is”; God has been teaching me how to make a home no matter where I am because He always goes with me. He has given me my better half, who has made the last few moves with me. And now we also have our beautiful daughter, to build our home with. It’s about our love towards each other and God that makes our home, not the actual location.

2.) These few years have been a huge reminder to me, that we are all just sojourners in this world. Even if we buy a home, decorate it, and live in it for the next thirty years, it is not permanent. God has used my moves to remind me that, my real home is not here and I need to remember not to get too attached to material possessions. And who knows….if we some day head out on to the mission field, this may just be preparation of what is to come.

3.) Over and over, God has shown me his WAYS are not our ways.  Things often don’t go as I have planned; and I have been reminded that what I think is best in the moment, is not what God KNOWS is best in the long run. He will ALWAYS provide for me (us). Sometimes it isn’t the way I have expected, but God never leaves me to drown. He always provides a way.

4.) One of the biggest blessings has been discovering how many people care for me (and Phil) and have given up space and privacy in order to bless us. I am SO thankful for every family that I have gotten to live with over the last few years. THANK YOU for allowing me to become part of your family for a short while. And now again, we are so grateful to Phil’s family for providing a home and childcare as Phil goes back to school. We will probably never be able to repay all of you…but it is my (and Phil’s) hope that someday we can pay it forward to other college students or couples.

5.)Being on the move a lot, has made minimalism seem more attractive….every time I move I end up purging a bunch of unnecessary stuff (by the trashbag). There is nothing wrong with having stuff, but it has definitely helped me to see what things are necessities to me, versus options.  Although, with this move we have by far the most stuff we’ve ever had-my goodness, babies need so many things (plus that closet full of diapers we brought along)!

Right now our apartment (or the Villa as we call it) is still under construction so we are staying in the main house with Phil’s family. We will make a “mini-move” across the driveway, in the fall when the villa is finished. As I sit in our current bedroom and dream of the memories to come, I am so thankful for what God has allowed me to go through. Because yes it has been tough at times, but it has allowed me to feel so much for others who have been in similar and worse situations. It has made me so much for thankful for our new space and reminds me not to take my blessings for granted. Homes are not just places for our things and a place to rest our heads at night…they are meant to be LIVED in and used to BLESS others.

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The First Month

I can’t believe we already have a one month old! Time has flown so quickly and I’ve already cried a little, while holding Isabel and realizing how big she has already grown since the first time I held her. I try to take advantage of every second I have cuddling her or feeding her, of her little smiles, and how she stares into my face as I talk to her. In some ways quarantine has been a blessing; there are less distractions and more time to just savor the moments with our precious daughter. Isabel loves to sleep and cuddle and she enjoys bath time, her pacifier, and staring up at the wooden baby gym that her Uncle Chad built her. She already fills our lives with so much light and joy; she is truly a gift from God.

6619E251-DF53-4C56-8977-DE5431A22C97The transition home was a bit difficult, as we were already sleep deprived and Isabel started to struggle with feeding. We barely slept the first night and I ended up pumping and we spoon fed her to try and get some milk into her before leaving for her doctor appointment. That afternoon we were able to get a telahealth appointment with an amazing lactation consultant. Each feeding after that got easier and now she is pretty much a pro. We were also very blessed that my mom had been working from home and was able to come spend 10 days with us, so we were able to get caught up on some sleep as well. Isabel goes anywhere between 4-5 hours between feedings at night and does pretty well sleeping in her bassinet in our room. Just over the last week or so she has started to spend more time awake during the day and loves interacting and trying to talk with us. Phil has been working 3-4 days a week and while we do well on our own, we love having Daddy here.

The name is Isabel means God is bountiful. What an appropriate reminder and encouragement for the time that we are currently living in. I still find myself in awe, that God chose Phil and me to be her parents. After my eventful pregnancy and delivery, the last month has been rather peaceful. And we are so grateful for that. But it doesn’t mean that it also hasn’t been extremely difficult in other ways. Isabel’s first month in our world is not something Phil and I could have imagined or dreamed up on our own. I thought by now that my whole family would have the opportunity to meet and cuddle her, that we would have friends over, and that we get to take Isabel to church at least once. I hate that Isabel hasn’t met her village and while we are surrounded by an amazing community, “social distancing” has made this time feel so lonely at times.

9788462A-CBCA-4BF7-B107-D9BFD17B6787What makes this time even more difficult for us, is that in about two weeks (Memorial day weekend) we are moving to Illinois; over 800 miles away from where we live now. There will be many people that we won’t get to say goodbye to and many people who will not get to meet Isa for quite awhile longer. I long for her Great-grandparents to hold her, to make memories with friends and family, and to hug our loved ones goodbye. I wonder when things will ever change, when thing will start to get back to “normal”. This is definitely not an ideal time to be moving. It is sometimes difficult to look forward to our new adventure when we do not even know what that will look like right now. 

I know that there are so many other families in our position right now; many may be feeling even more alone in this. I see you Momma, I feel for you…the isolation and the loneliness, all the while adjusting to having a newborn around. Postpartum is no joke-especially in this difficult time. Please know that you aren’t alone. If it feels like too much to handle, reach out-don’t feel like you need to also be alone emotionally. Cherish those baby cuddles and sweet smiles; take advantage of every moment you have with your little one. Each time I look at Isabel, I am reminded that everything is going to be okay. I am reminded of how bountiful the love of God is for me, for my family, and for each one of us. So as I watch my sleeping baby curled up next to me, I take comfort in each wonderful moment that God has already given us and look forwards to each moment to come.
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The Birth Story

On Tuesday, April 7th 2020 our little angel made her eventful entrance into the world. Isabel Grace Denner was born at 6:43 AM at 7 pounds, 7 ounces and 20 inches long. During my pregnancy, multiple people told me to have a “loose” birth plan, but to be prepared for it to go differently than planned. And in our case, that was certainly true. Originally, I had hoped to have a completely natural labor and delivery, but Phil and I had talked about the option of induction as the situation with COVID-19 began to grow more serious and affect many medical facilities across the nation. On Friday, April 3rd, I had an appointment with my OB and after talking with her and a few other doctors, Phil and I decided to go ahead with an elective induction. While I had originally wanted a natural delivery, it was more important to Phil and I that he could be there for the delivery and birth of our baby girl. My doctor and many others at our hospital were just waiting for the day when the hospital would change the rules and not allow a support person in the room. Since I was full term and baby girl was due on the 7th anyways, we decided this was the best decision with the current situation.

So on Monday night, around 8pm Phil and I headed with our bags to the hospital. The plan was at I was to arrive at labor and delivery at 9pm, where I would then be hooked up and monitored and given a small dose of cervidil. The purpose of the cervidil is to help finish ripening the cervix and I was supposed to receive increasing doses every four hours until my cervix was fully effaced and then on Tuesday morning I was going to be put on Pitocin to start contractions and my OB doctor would be there during the day to (hopefully) delivery the baby; although the process could potentially take longer than that. Throughout the day I had been having some contractions, but they weren’t very strong and I just thought they were Braxton hicks. But before even taking medication, the monitors were already registering my contractions at every 5 minutes. After giving me the first dose of cervidil, the doctors left the room so that Phil and I could get some sleep.

Or at least that was the plan. It didn’t take long for my belly to start feeling crampy (which was normal) but then my contractions got stronger. Phil did get a little sleep, but I don’t think I ever did fall asleep. By 1am when they came in to check on me and I was already 3cm dilated. I never did need a second dose of cervidil.  At this point I still was hoping not to get an epidural, but was becoming more open to the idea of it. By 3am I was having contractions every 1 to 2 minutes and most contractions were lasting for more than a minute and a half and I was 6cm dilated. I felt like I could barely catch my breath before the next contraction started and they were getting increasingly painful. I still thought that I wouldn’t be delivering until later in the day and I was absolutely exhausted, having not slept since 7am on Monday morning. I didn’t know how many more hours I could go and also be able to push. So I finally caved and decided to get an epidural. The doctor had already warned me that it would probably be close to an hour after asking for one until I actually would get the epidural.

They started me on an IV and began prepping to have us moved down to a delivery room. I have no idea how I would have made it through the next hour without Phil. He held my hand through each contraction and helped me to breathe through each one. At one point while Phil stepped away to get our things together, I felt like I could barely concentrate to get through on my own. The walk down to the delivery room felt like it took hours. I think it was only a few minutes after I got in the room that the anesthesiologist came in and prepped me for the epidural. I was really nervous, but it went in without a hitch and before long I felt so much relief. The doctor said that we should be able to get some rest now and I began to feel really relaxed and we dimmed the lights. Much time hadn’t passed though, before the doctor and nurse came into check on me and helped me change positions. My blood pressure had dropped a bit, which is normal on an epidural, but the baby’s heart rate was dipping down after each contraction, which was a concern.

Every 15 or so minutes they would come in and have me change positions.  I can’t exactly remember when, but at some point they broke my water and around 6:30am I was 8 and ½ cm dilated. Throughout this time, they continued to keep a close eye on the baby’s heart rate. Right after checking how dilated I was they told me that we were going to start prepping for a vaginal birth. I remember Phil laughing and saying “Well I’m guessing your OB won’t make it here in time for the delivery!” I felt so ready to meet our little girl and couldn’t wait to start pushing. And then only about 5 minutes later (or maybe less) 3 or 4 more nurses and 2 more doctors were suddenly with us in the room. Phil heard them saying, “Do you have the consent form for her to sign?”, but I didn’t realize what was going on until my doctor came up to me and said, “Lauren we are going to go ahead and do a c-section.” Everything after that was a blur. I remember starting to cry as I signed the papers and not wanting to let go of Phil’s hand as they lifted me off of the bed and rolled me out of the room.

I remember praying over and over, “God please let Isabel be okay.” I didn’t know until later why I was getting an emergency c-section and only knew that something was obviously wrong.  I never realized just how QUICKLY a c-section could be performed, but like I said earlier they had decided to prep me for a vaginal delivery at 6:30 (Phil had checked the clock) and our sweet little girl was born only 13 minutes later. Things seemed to move even more quickly after I got into the operating room. I remember looking around and being able to count at least 11 people in the room with me and only seconds after getting the blue sheet up to block my view I could feel hands yanking around at my stomach. And then I felt myself being sliced open. And it HURT. The anesthesiologist by my head asked if I could feel pain and after saying that I did it was only a few seconds before I felt the pain go away; but I could still feel what was happening. I couldn’t see anything though, and it felt like an eternity until I finally heard the cry of a baby. Within a couple of seconds of that cry I felt a hand holding mine and without even looking up I knew it was Phil.

I learned later that as they were wheeling me out of the delivery room, a nurse had told Phil that he could join me in the operation room after he was dressed and they gave him PPE (personal protective equipment). Right after getting everything on a nurse returned to walk him over and he thought that they would be prepping me for the c-section. But as he walked in to the operating room, the first thing he saw was me, open, on the operating and the doctors pulling our baby out of me. After being ushered over to me and holding my hand for a few minutes, he went over to Isabel where they were cleaning her up and giving her oxygen on the warming bed. I was able to see her around the blue sheet, if I strained my neck enough. Each time Phil came back to me I asked if she was okay and finally they wrapped her up and gave her to Phil. He brought Isabel over to me and I was able to reach out and touch her face. She was so beautiful and opened her eyes to look at me as I talked to her. I wanted so badly to hold her in my arms, but after another minute or so they had Phil leave the operating room with Isabel.

After they finished stitching me up, I was taken to get xrays to make sure everything looked good (although I honestly don’t even remember getting them) and then they finally took me back to Phil and the baby. Phil gave her to me to do skin on skin and I never wanted to let her go. It was then that I learned that Isabel’s heart rate had been continuing to drop way too low, which is why they decided to do the emergency c-section. It was then that they realized that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck so as I was contracting and she was moving further down into the birth canal, the cord was tightening around her neck. Even towards the end of my pregnancy I didn’t think I would be getting induced and definitely didn’t plan for a c-section. It wasn’t at all a part of our birth plan, but once I held Isa in my arms and knew that she was okay it didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was that God had protected me and our little girl and brought her safely to us. In the end, it was such a blessing that I ended up getting induced and choosing an epidural, because they spent more time monitoring Isabel’s heart rate and were able to see what was going on. Also, because I had an epidural I didn’t need to go under general anesthesia, so I didn’t miss the birth of our baby and my recovery wasn’t quite as difficult.

Because of getting a c-section, the hospital normally keeps patients a few extra days, but because of COVID-19, I was told that if the baby and I were doing well we could leave on Thursday (2 days after delivery). We were all taken up to a postpartum room, where none of were allowed to leave until leaving the hospital. Phil even was able to order meals with me. We also had to wear our masks whenever other people were in the room with us. The nurses and staff that worked with us were absolutely phenomenal. We felt so supported and taken care of. On Tuesday afternoon, my OB came into see us and the first thing she said was, “What the heck?! That was NOT the plan!!” We all planned. Yes, that definitely was not the plan. My doctor was only supposed to work Tuesday of that week but ended up there the next two days and was able to check in on us each day. We were both absolutely exhausted. I don’t think either of us slept for more than 2 hours at a time before leaving the hospital. Even when Isabel was fast asleep there were techs or nurses coming in to check on one of us and administer meds, etc…

As time went on, I was increasingly grateful to have Phil there with me. Before the delivery, all I had thought about was how much I needed his support during labor; I had never considered how much I would need him after. I don’t know how I would have survived alone in the hospital for the next few days. From exhaustion, emotional tears, to adjusting to breastfeeding, and processing all the information I was given-having him there to hold my hand and walk through everything with me. As amazing as everyone was, it didn’t take long for us to both feel stir crazy and claustrophobic. With having a c-section recovery would look about different than if I had a vaginal delivery. Each time they checked on me they said that everything was looking great; they told me what warning signs to look for when getting home and that I wouldn’t be able to drive or lift anything heavier than the baby for 6 weeks. The first time I stood up, I was in extreme pain even with the meds and it was with much difficulty that I practiced walking around the room (like they had told me to).

Everything still seemed so surreal; every time I held her or looked at her, I just couldn’t believe she was ours. I know Phil felt the same way and even now it still seems surreal at certain moments. I can’t believe that God chose us to be her parents. This beautiful little angel is actually ours! When they finally gave us our discharge papers, we were so excited to get Isabel home and start life as our little family. Nothing about the delivery or hospital went the way we thought it would (and if you know me, you know I don’t always do well when plans change). But as we held her and snuggled her, none of that mattered. All that mattered was how God had provided for us and brought Isabel safely to us. All of this is just an incredible reminder that we can plan and plan and plan for what’s ahead, but ultimately God is in control and I can rest in that fact as Phil and I continue this journey as a family of three, with our Isabel.

 

My Pregnancy: Car Accident & COVID-19

As exciting as finding out you are pregnant is, it is also completely normally to have some anxiety and concerns about things that could go wrong. Besides having morning sickness during the first trimester and dealing with some anxiety over the unknowns, God blessed me with a very healthy pregnancy and it started off quite uneventful. Of everything that I was prepared to encounter, the two big events that have affected my pregnancy are ones that I never foresaw. At the end of January I was in a pretty bad car accident, in which my car was totaled and I ended up in the hospital for over 26 hours. The following weeks consisted of working through pain from injury, as well as anxiety and unexpected responsibilities. And then secondly, the last few weeks of my pregnancy have been amid the global pandemic of COVID-19 and currently life as we knew it has ceased to exist. Both of these events have challenged me and given me an opportunity to trust God and place my life more fully in his hands.

I was on my way to work at 8am on a Thursday morning. I was in the right lane of a four lane road (two lanes going each direction) and there was a car in the left lane trying to make a left turn. The car behind him decided not to wait for him to make the turn and merged into my lane. There was a cement building on the other side of me and I had nowhere to go. The other car hit me hard on the front left side of my car (up by the tire in front of the driver’s seat) and ripped the front part of my car off. I was wearing my seat belt, but with the impact, my chest and top of my belly hit the steering wheel. I was able to get myself stopped, but then sat there in shock not even knowing what to do. Thankfully, Jesus sent me a guardian angel in the form of the driver behind us. He pulled over and came to check on me right away. He made sure I would be able to get out of my car and then offered to call 911 for me. I was already feeling pain and was working hard to hold back tears.

I called Phil right away (he was at work), and miraculously he happened to have his phone on him. He normally doesn’t have it with him except on break and as they had just changed locations, I had no idea what his new work number was. He answered right away and was able to leave work within 5 minutes. He took care of calling my boss and my mom so that I could talk to the police. It wasn’t long after, that they arrived. Everything still seemed like such a blur and it was such a blessing that the guy behind me had stopped because he had witnessed everything and was able to tell them what had happened. The police sent for an ambulance and came to check on me and then went to talk to the man who had hit my car. I was in quite a bit of pain, but mostly concerned because while I was driving the baby had been moving a lot and I hadn’t felt a single movement since being hit.

As I was waiting, I heard the other driver trying to blame me for the accident while talking to the police. He hadn’t even come to check on me to see if I was okay (I’ve been in a few fender benders in the past and the other driver had ALWAYS been approachable and we always checked on each other) and had purposely avoided coming over near me. I think that added to my shock and tears and it certainly upset Phil when he arrived and realized what was happening. Phil arrived right after I got my things out of the car and right before the ambulance arrived. Phil talked to the police briefly and got information we needed to follow up about the accident. And then the EMTs checked me out and were going to take me to the closest hospital, but since I was stable Phil was able to drive me to the hospital where my OBGYN practice is.

I called my OBGYN to see where they wanted me to go when we arrived and they said to go up to the labor and delivery ward for monitoring. During the drive my pain continued to increase in my chest and just as we arrived to the parking garage I felt a small movement from baby girl. I was so relieved, but also still really concerned. They put me on an IV and did an ultrasound to check on the baby and make sure that the placenta had not detached from the uterine wall. If it had they would need to prep me for an emergency c-section (I was only at 32 weeks, so we were praying hard that this wouldn’t be necessary). I was having contractions, but luckily I wasn’t bleeding, the ultrasound looked good, and baby girl’s heartbeat was strong. Since I continued to have contractions they wanted to keep watching for awhile and took some blood samples. Throughout the day, baby girl’s movements got stronger and more frequent and eventually I was cleared to go down to the ER.

We spent the next few hours in the ER where I got an EKG (to monitor my heart) and Xrays. The xrays showed that I had a small fracture in my sternum (hence all the pain) and because of the baby we decided not to do a CAT scan; Instead they decided to keep me overnight for more labs and to do an ultrasound on my other organs to make sure nothing else was punctured. They had us go back up to labor and delivery for the night and they continued to monitor the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. We were able to leave mid morning, the next day. During the time that we were at the hospital, our pastor visited, one of my friends spent 5 or so hours in the ER with us, other friends dropped off food, and many people were praying for us. Phil and I were also pleased with the care we received from my OB, the labor and delivery unit, ER and trauma team; we were so thankful how God provided for us.

It was so clear to us how God’s hand was throughout the whole situation and how he watched over and protected me and our baby girl. The accident could have been much worse, but as we settled back in at home I began to experiences many emotions and deal with increased anxiety. I was in a lot of pain; I could barely get out of bed or turn over during the night. Phil would wake up each time I would to help me get up or adjust. Sneezing, coughing, and laughing were almost unbearable. Even though, the other driver had completely been at fault and was ticketed by the police officers, when Phil and I started to sort through the details of car insurance and medical bills and we realized we would need to hire an attorney just to be able to cover remaining medical costs and hopefully make up some of what we lost from our totaled vehicle. The first few times I tried to drive I was so anxious, not to mention in a lot of pain.

I also found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the driver who hit me. What was supposed to be an exciting time preparing for the baby to come was now marred with physical pain, added emotional stress, and many extra responsibilities dealing with insurance, our attorney, a tightened financial situation, and searching for a new vehicle. I had absolutely no control over anything that had happened and it was really tempting to grow angry with the other driver and to question why God would allow any of this to happen in the first place. It just didn’t seem fair and it was so easy to start feeling sorry for myself and get wrapped up in everything that was going wrong. It took a lot of prayer and reminders from Phil and others, that God is sovereign and control. Sometimes I had to choose to forgive the other driver multiple times in one day and remind myself of all the ways that God was providing and how much he had protected me (and baby girl) from.

It took a month or so for both the physical pain and everything else to get easier. And then just as I felt like things were getting back to normal, suddenly the whole world started changing. Before I knew it I was stuck at home 24/7 just waiting for the baby to come. I had so much extra time on my hands and while I wasn’t extremely worried about Phil or myself getting the corinavirus, I was concerned about the children we sponsored in vulnerable areas, about our immunocompromised friends, and for all of the people who were economically at risk from everything that was happening. And things seemed to escalate pretty quickly, because then suddenly there were articles going around about hospitals not allowing a support person in for labor and delivery; even my doctor and the practice were concerned that our hospital was heading that direction. I found myself growing increasingly concerned that I would need to delivery the baby alone and that Phil would miss out on the birth of our daughter.

Just like with my car accident, I realized that it came down to control. Or lack there of. I felt like I had no control over what was happening and I was letting that fear to control me. God convicted me that he is not ringing his hands over this situation, neither is he just watching for a distance. He cares about each and every one of us. I’m not saying that it is easy or that it makes sense to us, but God’s ways are often beyond human understanding. And when we focus on what the WORLD is telling us, YES it is terrifying. But when we focus on God and WHO God is, our perspective changes. God is steadfast and God is love and “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (John 4:18). And with that in mind, I no longer am filled with fear…but I have so much peace knowing that has go me (and us) in his hands. When I let myself be filled with his LOVE, everything takes on a different perspective and I know that he will take care of all the little details. 

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