Pregnancy diary: week 32 – “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139)

This week I’ve been thinking about knitting. It’s not me who’s been doing the knitting – I fear it would take me longer than a 9 month pregnancy to knit even one item of newborn clothing, having not done any since I was a child and having little time for craft these days. Recently we were very kindly given two new cardigans in baby sizes (1 newborn, 1 second size) by Tom’s Nan. She loves knitting, and can whip up garments in no time, even those that are bigger than tiny baby sizes. She, along with two of Tom’s aunts, knitted lots for us when Andrew was born, which was great because he was born in a cold January and needed a woolly top most days, but he grew so quickly, as babies do, that he didn’t get much wear out of each individual jumper/cardigan, so there’s plenty of wear left in them all for our new baby. Since Andrew was born, Tom’s Nan and aunt have also provided us with jumpers and cardigans throughout the year, so we’ve not had to buy any woolly clothes at all, and again there’s plenty of wear left in them for our second child.

2 new white cardies for the newborn (1 first size, 1 second size) and 2 of Andrew's most recent jumpers/cardies, all beautifully knitted.

I know we are very lucky to have such lovely handmade clothes given to us when they would cost a fortune to buy, and it’s also nice to know the person who made them, and know that they were made with our kids specifically in mind. In fact, because we are still being given more hand-knitted garments by Tom’s family for this baby, we’re able to give some away to another family baby, who is due to come into the world 4 weeks before ours. I’m so glad we can share these lovely gifts with another baby who will benefit from gorgeous warm clothes in the winter months. I’m sure the bigger sizes will continue to come in too, as Andrew has also received some bigger jumpers recently that he’s just about growing into. So there will be lots of hand-me-downs in the months and years to come.

Wow! Will the new baby really be that small?! It's hard to remember that my big buster boy was once a delicate little newborn who fitted into something this small.

All these knitted clothes have reminded me of a verse in the Bible which I really love. Psalm 139, verse 13 says:

“For you [God] created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

I’d read this verse before I was even thinking about becoming a mum, but it wasn’t until after I’d given birth to Andrew that these words took on such a strong meaning for me. I remember lying on the hospital bed the night after Andrew was born, just looking at him sleeping peacefully – his little chest moving up and down as he breathed air after so many months of developing his lungs in the womb, his tiny but perfectly formed fingers wrapped around my big index finger, his tiny mouth that instinctually sucked whenever my breast (or anything else!) came near it. It suddenly hit me that this little being had developed from just one cell inside my womb, he had been knit together, all his tiny parts perfectly formed into one body that was now living on its own outside of me. That thought really made the verse in Psalm 139 hit home to me, and I was grateful beyond words to God for giving us this amazing gift of new life. I just lay there in utter amazement, and got not a wink of sleep, but it didn’t matter to me.

I had thought about the verse a couple of times in pregnancy with Andrew, but I don’t think it was until I held him in my arms that I fully grasped what this meant: God had knit Andrew together inside me, and there I was holding this amazing piece of God’s creation. This time in pregnancy, the verse has come to me again a few times; this time I have more of  a sense of what it means to me, because I am constantly reminded every day when I look at Andrew of God’s amazing creation. Already in 19 months he has grown and developed even more; from being that tiny newborn baby fast asleep, he has turned into an active toddler who walks (read: runs) around and is starting to talk words that I understand. He no longer fits in the white cardies in the picture at the start of this post, and is rapidly growing out of the blue ones in the picture too! Conception to birth is one incredible act of knitting, and the finished piece of knitting at birth continues on its journey of growth throughout childhood.

Before I finish, I’d like to share the section of Psalm 139 (verses 13-16) that the verse about being knit together in the womb comes from. This is from The Message translation (a modern take on more traditional translations)….

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me [knit me together] in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

It’s not just the knowledge that God knit Andrew and this baby together in my womb which I find so amazing – I love the fact that God has a plan for my life and He knows exactly what will happen, in fact he knew before Iwas even born. That is mind-blowingly awesome! And it certainly makes me want to praise God like the person who wrote the Psalm did. Mind-blowing it may be, but I know that it’s true because I have already experienced so much of God at work in my life, even in times when I couldn’t see the plan myself and I was going through difficult times.

Another week down, another bit of growth from bump.

Next week I know I’m going to have to start thinking about packing my hospital bag and getting some things ready at home in case I end up being at home for the birth. Tom has been asking me this week when I’m going to do it! I’m usually the one who gets prepared first out of the two of us, but I think I’m just so busy still, and lacking in energy in times that I do have to myself, that I’ve not got around to it yet. Let’s see if I get around to it this week…..

Anyone else tired and weary?

Yesterday at church, the talk was highly relevant to me, and it’s been making me think a lot since, so I thought I’d share what it was about, because I’m sure I’m not the only tired and weary person (specifically parent) around. The reading from the Bible on which the talk was based came from the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, verses 28-31:

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Tired and weary are two things that I have definitely been feeling lately. It’s not surprising me really, it’s obvious why. I’m pregnant for one thing, and, unlike last time, I’m also looking after a toddler who likes to run around and go outside a lot, and who generally doesn’t stay still doing one activity for more than a few minutes (except when he’s napping – like as I write!) I also have a part-time (paid) job, which is very busy at the moment as I try to finish off and tie up loose ends before I leave it at the start of October. Then there’s my editor role for the local NCT branch magazine, for which I spend a fair amount of time editing articles and sending emails. And let’s not forget housework that slots in somehow (helpfully Tom does (more than) his fair share too). Oh and of course I like to blog about what I’m up to, whenever I get chance. Life is pretty much the busiest I’ve ever known it, though it’s all (well, mostly) stuff I enjoy doing and get a lot out of on different levels.

Hearing this passage from the Bible again (it’s one I’m quite familiar with, but it really struck me yesterday), reminded me that when I’m feeling tired and weary from everything going on in life, I can look to God to give me the strength to get through it all. This can be both physical strength (through, for example, the blessing of good sleep, nutritious food and nausea that’s no longer constant) and mental strength (like the ability to focus on and persevere through a particular project without becoming demotivated or distracted). Unlike me, God does not get tired, faint or weary, and His strength is everlasting. I love the image of ‘soaring on wings like eagles’ – I imagine myself flying high in the sky, looking down on all the things I need to do, not worrying about how/when they’ll get done for now.The important thing for me to remember, however, is that in order to get this renewed strength and soar on wings like eagles, I need to actually take some time out from everything and spend time focused on God. He does promise to help by giving me the strength, but the key bit in the passage is ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.’ This isn’t just a passive thing, but rather it involves an action of hoping in God (or waiting for, or expecting God to help). This action means spending time praying, reading the Bible, singing to God about how amazing He is and what He’s done for me. I was reminded in the talk yesterday that it’s no use trying to do all the things in my life in my own strength, without taking the time to ask God to help me. This can seem like a hard thing to do; it’s tempting to plough on with stuff whenever I get a bit of time to myself, but ultimately some time spent with God before I do other stuff will help me have the strength to do what I need when I do it.

I can’t say that I’m perfect at always remembering to put this into action, but it’s something that I’m going to try and keep in mind this coming week and beyond, even when life is hectic. Already I feel more calm and relaxed about the prospect of everything that I will do this week, just by remembering today to hand it all over to God in the knowledge that He has everything under control.

How Pentecost is like the Olympic Flame

Most of you are probably thinking ‘Oh no, not someone else banging on about the Olympic Flame’, though there must be some people out there who aren’t fed up of the Olympic coverage already (mustn’t there…??). If you have been interested enough to click onto this post and start reading, you’ll (be relieved to) find out that I’m not going to focus on the Olympics, but rather show how Pentecost, the Christian festival celebrated today, has some similarity to the Olympic Flame. I have to admit that I got this idea from John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, a very cool guy for someone who wears such a funny hat, he’s even on twitter and his tweets are very down to earth  – don’t just take my word for it, check him out all you twitter peeps 🙂 I liked his idea and thought it was very relevant with all this Olympic Flame revelry going on, so I thought I’d share my take on it with you (his full message can be found here).Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks after Easter. In the UK it usually falls sometime around the late May bank holiday (depending on the date of Easter which moves each year), though of course this year the bank holiday is a week later in June because of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Here is a description of the first ever day of Pentecost from the book of Acts (chapter 2 verses 1-4) in the Bible (taken from The Message version – a modern-day translation):

“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they [the first followers of Jesus Christ, i.e. the early Church] were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.”

This describes how God sent his Holy Spirit to be with the early followers of Jesus on the first ever day of Pentecost. You see, Jesus had previously died and risen from the dead three days later (as I wrote about at Easter), and then, just before Pentecost, had gone back up to heaven leaving His followers behind. But it had always been God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to help His followers on Earth after Jesus was no longer around in person. And this is just what God did on that first Pentecost.

The early followers of Jesus, the early Christians, needed this Holy Spirit, a ‘helper’, to give them the words to say, and the perseverance amidst the adversity they would encounter, when telling others about Jesus and being involved in bringing more people to follow Him. When the Spirit was sent, it was like a ‘wildfire’ that spread through the followers. Can you see where the Olypmic Flame parallel is starting to come out here? That first Pentecost was the start of the flame relay, and it’s a relay that has been going on ever since, and will carry on forever.

When someone first decides to become a Christian, to follow Jesus and put Him a the centre of their life, they too become ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit, they get the flame in the relay, just as the first followers did ages ago, just as Christians have over the centuries, and just as continues to happen today. This may sound a bit weird and potentially a reason to freak out about becoming a Christian. I know that for years I was happy enough to read all about God and Jesus in the Bible, and accept and believe in all the written words (the ‘Word’ part of believing), but I hadn’t actually encountered God from a personal perspective – that was what happened the day I first experienced what it was like to feel the Holy Spirit (the ‘Spirit’ part of believing). There were no actual flames involved (I suspect we would have set the building’s fire alarms off these days!), but I can relate to the metaphor of a rushing wind.

Before this experience I was a big sceptic of this kind of thing, and I guess that’s why it took years for me to really accept that God could still work in this way in the 21st century. But even I was finally able to let my barriers down, and I’m so glad I did, because now I can see that being a Christian makes so much more sense with both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ side of things together. The day I accepted that flame passed to me, it changed my life. I can’t say that it instantly changed me into a perfect person (still a LONG way off that!) but I do know that it is having this flame which helps me in my life as a Christian. It’s not always easy, for one thing we get a lot of stick, but it would be a whole lot harder if I didn’t have a way of interacting with God on a personal level. I believe that He can guide my thoughts, my words and my actions (if I let Him, not always the case) and show me what plans He has for my life, which (experience tells me) are way better than anything I could have come up with by myself.

The Olympic Flame analogy isn’t quite perfect for the Holy Spirit, because the great thing is, you never have to give up the flame and pass it to someone else. So it’s like a special relay where every participant keeps holding a flame even after someone else gets a flame too. In fact not only that, but you can ask God for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in your life whenever you like, if you feel like you’ve drifted away or had a particularly challenging time that’s used up all your spiritual ‘energy’. So it’s like each flame never goes out, never runs out of fuel, and there’s always enough to go round everyone who wants it at the same time. Pretty amazing!

So have you ever thought about what it would be like to accept the flame? (the Holy Spirit that is, not the Olympic one – I wouldn’t be able to run very far with that!) It might sound like a big step, and I know how it feels to be standing on the edge of that big step thinking about whether to go for it, but I would definitely recommend it as a life-changing experience. If you’re not even sure about, or haven’t heard about, the ‘Word’ side of things, I’d recommend reading one of the first four books of the New Testament in the Bible – the four ‘Gospels’, which recount Jesus’ life, death and rising again. The book of Acts (which describes Pentecost) carries on from where they stop. A great way to explore what you think about both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ is through an Alpha course, where you can ask questions and discuss your views with Christians who would love to do that with you. These run in churches all over the world. Why not look up one near you if you’re interested?

The balancing act of life: revisited

Just after I started blogging, and not long after I went back to work part-time after maternity leave, I wrote a post about balancing everything I do in a week, including being mummy, working as a researcher, doing housework, and having some time myself to go swimming, blog and bake etc. Then a while later, having settled into this balancing act a bit more, I wrote a guest post for The Family Patch on a similar topic. This last week has reminded me of these posts; as I’ve been thinking and reflecting on how the balancing act is working, I thought I’d revisit my thoughts from back then and write about my thoughts now.

Us chilling out on the sofa when Granny and Grandad visited recently

This week has been a lovely week. I’ve had a week of annual leave, which has meant my little boy and I have been able to spend a whole week together. It’s been so fun! We’ve not been away anywhere (Daddy gets less annual leave than me, well, pro-rata as I work part-time), but we just enjoyed a normal week of activities around town. It reminded me of being on maternity leave, and I’d almost forgotten how fun the groups are that I used to go to with him then. I joined my boys at their regular music group on Tuesday morning, we met up with friends, went swimming twice, and hung out at the park a few times.

At the park - what is this weird satellite dish thing?!

It’s not that we don’t usually get chance to do any of this, but it was so good to have a whole week of quality time, just Andrew and me. We didn’t have to rush off to the childminder on two mornings, nor did I have to race on with dinner straight after getting home in the evening from her house. Life has been more relaxed than the usual racing about making sure we’re in the right place at the right time with the right things packed in our different bags (i.e. no nappies in my work bag and no laptop equipment in the change bag). This week has really made me appreciate just how busy I’ve been working part-time as well as being a mum.

Recently over at BritMums, there’s been a discussion about whether mums can ‘have it all’, in other words can they have successfully juggle life with kids, work and time for themselves? I think there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. We’re all different with different personalities and different situations. As others commented on this BritMums discussion thread, I think it’s partly to do with how you define ‘having it all’. I mean it’s possible to have bits of time in your week devoted to kids, work, home and yourself. How you prioritise each of these, and things within these broad ‘categories’ will of course differ from family to family, and that’s not to say one family is any worse off for it than another. But I’m not sure it’s possible (for me) to ‘have it all’ in the sense that each of these categories would not end up being lived out to the full in the same way as they would with someone who didn’t have one of these categories in their life (e.g. didn’t have kids or didn’t work). Again, not that this is necessarily a problem, it’s just a question of what outcome one prefers to have, and therefore what has to give and take a little in order to get there.

Swinging in the sunshine

At the moment I know that the equation life = being mum + working + doing housework + having me-time results in a real balancing act. Some weeks I feel I pull this act off, other weeks I’m not so happy with myself for how I’ve handled it. This past week has brought it home to me how taking out ‘work’ from the equation has not only left me with more time for being mum and being myself (during toddler naps), but has meant less rushing around from one place to another, and less stress over getting ready for the day and for bedtime. I don’t think I appreciated just how hard this is until I didn’t have to do it for a week.

Must all good things come to an end? Unfortunately the good thing that was this week must come to an end, and I must go back to work next week. However, I don’t want to give the impression that I hate work or that I’m ungrateful for having a job, because these two things couldn’t be further from the truth. There are several good points about my job which I blogged about before. It’s just that I don’t feel I currently ‘have it all’ – I don’t have as much time with my boy as I’d like, and I don’t have the longer term motivation at work because I don’t have the aspiration to work my way up in an academic career (which is what many people with jobs like mine go on to do). But I know this feeling won’t last forever, and that’s what’s helping me through. My job runs until the end of this year, at which point I won’t look for another. I feel like my primary role in life at the moment is to be a mum, and in order to do this most effectively given our current situation, I would like to not have the extra pressure of a part-time job.

Learning our rainbow colours - in three languages of course 🙂

And finally, something that has encouraged me this week to be patient with how things are at the moment, and trust that this is not how it will always be. As I wasn’t at work, I was able to join in with the weekly women’s Bible study group at church like I used to on maternity leave. Andrew loves playing in the creche there with his favourite children’s worker Matt – he even walked into the room himself and started playing as soon as we got there. This gave me an hour to myself, and time to reflect on a short Bible passage that we read and discussed together. We looked at a chapter from the letter written by James, including these verses which spoke to me:

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5: 7-8)

This reminded me that I can’t necessarily have things exactly how I want right now, and that I need to be patient. I’ve never been great with patience; it’s certainly something I need to work on and have asked God to help me with a lot. The analogy with a farmer in these verses was clear for me to relate to; I need to wait for the autumn and spring rains, the right moment when God says to me that now is the time to move on to the next thing He has planned for me. And until that time, I trust that He will give me the strength and perseverance to do my best at the balancing act of life.