Cravings

I’ve worked with a lot of pregnant women before. Prior to going into family medicine, I desperately wanted be an OB/GYN, so during the last three years, I’ve spent countless hours counseling women about their pregnancies. I’ve read the text books. I know the typical symptoms that accompany the first few months of pregnancy, and I’ve written prescriptions for Zofran and even admitted women to the hospital to be treated for hyperemesis gravidarum where the women puke so much that they almost pass out.

However, seeing these patients in the office and having one of these patients living in one’s home are two completely different entities.

Initially, Bethany’s pregnancy symptoms weren’t extreme. For a moment, I thought that the good Lord was smiling down on us, and Bethany was going to go through her entire pregnancy without any nausea and without any times of hugging the toilet thinking she was going to accidentally puke the baby out of her.

Yeah, we’re totally not one of those lucky couples.

It all started a couple weeks after the stick turned pink. For the first couple days, she was just really tired. Her chronic somnolence is something that I’m pretty used to, so it didn’t seem that odd for her to be getting up later, going to bed earlier, and taking as many naps as possible.

But then the cravings and nausea began. Now, I want to preface this saying that Bethany’s symptoms are actually quite mild compared to most women’s, but again, having the entire experience go on in my home instead of in my office is very odd.

I think someday when little Tommy(e) asks about the 9 months we spent with him while he incubated in his mommy’s belly, I will have to begin by telling him that for the first week of his life, his entire nutrition source was Wheat Thins. Bethany didn’t want breakfast, lunch, or dinner. She wanted Wheat Thins. After a week, however, she developed an abhorrence to Wheat Thins and informed me that she never wanted to see a box of Wheat Thins again.

The first couple weeks were pretty rough on both of us. Once she had eaten her body weight in Wheat Thins, she didn’t know what she was craving. I felt an overwhelming duty to keep my wife and new baby fed, so I made sure she had anything she wanted. She was never hungry for whole meals, so there were nights when all we had for dinner were chocolate milk shakes and French fries.   For a few days she also developed a craving for organic freezer meals. Somehow, she felt satiated after these “meals” because she was constantly snacking all day long, but for the first two weeks of the pregnancy, I was in a constant state of ravenous hunger. My lunch that I ate at the hospital was pretty much my only full meal of the day. I was sure that I was going to die of malnutrition before we hit the second trimester, and then my baby would be left fatherless, and Bethany would have nobody to go to the store and buy her freezer meals for her.

In an act of desperation, I finally text our friend Tristan. She and her husband Chris are super fertile people who got pregnant on their first try 2 months before Bethany and me.

“She’s hungry all the time, but nothing sounds good. HELP!!!” I frantically texted.

Tristan is wonderful and gracious and replied with a whole list of foods that got her through her first couple months. I read them off to Bethany and her face lit up like I imagine people’s faces lit up in Bible times after they’d seen Jesus.

“I want pasta!!!” she declared.

Thus began my daily trips to the grocery store.

We developed a system where I would only plan meals for 2-3 days as opposed to our typical grocery system where we tried to have meals planned for each week. Due to Bethany’s constantly changing appetite and her newfound aversion to left overs, I now make daily trips to the store.

So far, this plan has been working out well. We did hit a little bit of a concerning time last week when Bethany’s primary cravings were for pizza rolls, potato chips, and macaroni and cheese. I did my husbandly duty and immediately went to the grocery store, but as I pushed my cart through Kroger, I wondered what was actually growing in Bethany’s uterus. Prior to the pregnancy, our trips to the grocery store began in produce. We would then gracefully push our cart to the organic section, and as we moved around the periphery of the store, we tried to only buy products that we couldn’t get at our local farmer’s market. For the 7 or 8 months prior to pregnancy, the only meat or eggs we’d eaten at home were acquired from local farms, and we had even started drinking organic almond milk to try and decrease excess hormone intake.

But, alas, on this trip to the grocery store, I looked down in my cart and realized that if a colossal grocery store disaster were to occur, and a whole shelf of canned artichokes and beans collapsed on me, those who came to investigate the scene would be convinced that the victim of the violent attack was not a young doctor who was married with a baby on the way. Instead they would think it was a 19 year old college frat boy stocking up his dorm room. I had toilet paper, macaroni and cheese, off brand potato chips, and pizza rolls. Lots of pizza rolls. The only missing pieces to the puzzle were beer and condoms.

Thankfully, Bethany’s craving for pizza rolls has passed, and she’s moved onto longings for pasta and meat. I made the mistake of buying 3 pounds of chicken because it was a good deal, and it was the second time in three days that I was at the store buying chicken. However, it was after dinner that night that Bethany announced that she never wanted to eat chicken again, and all she wanted was beef.

I now have 2 ½ pounds of chicken sitting in the freezer.

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Waiting for Tears

Now that we’ve finally announced the pregnancy, I can start to post some of the thoughts I’ve been writing.

I vividly remember sitting in my friend and mentor Ezra’s office at the tender age of 19 declaring to him that my biological clock had starting ticking, and I was ready to be a dad. At this point in my life, I was very single, very naïve, and very poor, but all of these facts seemed pretty menial when thinking about my longing to be a father. (In hindsight, none of these barriers have kept any of my current patients from getting pregnant, so I shouldn’t have thought they were that big of a deal.)

In the 8 years since this conversation with Ezra, I have imagined in extreme detail how I would react the moment I found out that Bethany and I were pregnant. Considering that I cried through my whole wedding, I figured that there would be lots of tears involved. I imagined yelling and screaming and jumping up and down and being filled with so many emotions that I could burst. I also imagined that once hearing the news, I would live in a giddy state of joy for the next several weeks not allowing anything in my life to inhibit my sense of happiness.

During our first 4 years of marriage, Bethany and I had a few pregnancy scares (I’ll call them “scares” because she was terrified. For me they were pregnancy “hopes” as I sat outside the bathroom door quietly praying for two pink lines). Had any of these times been real pregnancies, the scenarios I’d envisioned in my head probably would have come true. There would have been lots of tears and emotions overflowing from Bethany and me, but we would have both had very different reasons for our tears.

But, this time was different. We’d been trying for several months to get pregnant. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t complaining or arguing when the doctor told us to have sex at least every other day. I completely endorsed this plan; however, Bethany’s cycles were pretty wonky after coming off of her birth control, and those months of trying brought with them a lot of tears and confusion and questions. There were visits to the OB/GYN, trials of different medications, and days when we wondered if we should start pursuing adoption.

During the whole process we also wondered how we could tell if Bethany were pregnant. The classic symptoms that most of my patients and our friends always report are an insatiable appetite and constant drowsiness, but if these symptoms are any indicator, then Bethany has been in a constant state of pregnancy since I met her 10 years ago.

The day the stick turned pink, I had a strong feeling that Bethany was pregnant. For starters, Bethany had been judiciously tracking her temperature for the past 3 or 4 months to try and determine when she was ovulating. For many women in the world, ovulation tracking is tedious and inaccurate, but my lady is a boss. She’s a scientist, so when it comes to collecting data in a regimented manner, she goes at it like it’s her job…because…well…it’s her job. Her temperature had increased exactly as it should have, and thanks to my slipping home during a long lunch break, we had performed our marital duties in the optimal time slot.

****cue the song Afternoon Delight****

I knew something was amiss when I woke up at 5:30 AM as I usually do, and Bethany was already awake. When I came walking out of our bedroom, she greeted me with a boisterous, “Good Morning.” I ran back into my room to grab my glasses to make sure this was actually my wife who was talking to me. I was in a state of complete confusion because Bethany is NEVER awake before 7AM, and until 8AM, she speaks in muffled grunts rather than actual words. And if it wasn’t Bethany sitting on the couch talking to me, then this situation was about to get a whole lot more awkward for everyone involved because I was stark ass naked.

I finally got showered and put on clothes and made it to work. Throughout my day, I kept trying to suppress the thought that maybe there was a little embryo implanted in Bethany’s uterus. It was actually pretty easy not to sit and ponder the potential joys of my personal life because I was working my month of in-patient hospital service, which typically involves very busy and very long days.

When I got home, Bethany surprised me by pulling out a pair of baby Toms shoes and the positive pregnancy test. I laughed, hugged her, and waited for the tears to start pouring down.

I waited.

I held onto her tight and kept waiting.

Nothing.

She wasn’t crying either, but this isn’t very surprising. She’s been moved to tears while watching The Land Before Time and The Bucket List, but other than that, she’s usually too level headed for tears.

We sat and talked for a little while that night and then I went to bed because I’d worked for 14 hours that day and had another 12 hour day ahead of me. There was no screaming or running around, and the next day at work the joy of being a father didn’t preclude me from getting angry at patients for doing stupid things. For some reason, it just wasn’t sinking in that my entire life will be changing forever.

4 weeks later, I’m still waiting for the tears to come, but I can’t keep the goofy grin off of my face every time I think about my little baby growing in Bethany’s uterus. I think Ezra will be proud.

The Art of Being Disciplined…and How I Don’t Have It

My guys’ Bible study is currently going through two books together. The first is Multiply by Francis Chen which is basically a guide book for witnessing and discipleship. The other book is The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoune. I’m pretty sure that it was either my friend Chris or me that decided we wanted to work through the spiritual disciplines, but whichever one of us it was should be punished severely!

We decided that we should each pick out a spiritual discipline and work through it individually, then in our group time we could discuss our growth and struggles, and we’d have some accountability in the process.

Now, for those who aren’t aware, “spiritual disciplines” is a term referring to a group of practices used to help Christians dig deeper and grow closer to God. There are a lot of them including solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service…the list could be endless and different depending on a person’s religion or tradition.

Initially, I was really excited about going through these with my group of guys. I truly have a desire to have a closer walk with Christ, and I thought going through this book would be a magnificent way to aid in this endeavor; however, then I remembered something about myself.

I HATE BEING DISCIPLINED!!!

Now, I’m not prejudiced. I dislike all forms of discipline. I realize this sounds ironic because I’m pretty OCD in a lot of areas of my life, and I obviously have enough discipline to get through medical school, but frankly, I don’t like forsaking my personal comfort for any form of a greater good–spiritual or earthly.

For instance, I’m in a continual cycle of starting and stopping running. I’ll sign up for a race and train for it and build up lots of momentum and get comfortable running 10 or 12 miles…then I finish the race and don’t run again for 3 months. By this time, I’ve lost most of my strength and endurance, and then I start the whole process over again.

If my superpower wasn’t an out of control metabolism, I would be featured on TLC’s My 600 Pound Life. I have been known to eat a large pizza and two bags of chips as a snack and then chase that with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s an hour later. I can diminish a bag of fun-size candy bars into a pile of wrappers in the amount of time it takes Bethany to eat 3 of those candy bars. I eat Thin Mints by the tube, and one day for lunch I ate almost 3 pounds of pork. I should be morbidly obese, but to Bethany’s chagrin, I still fit into pants I bought when I was 16.

I have high hopes of getting up early to read or do my devotions, but my snooze button wins every time. I’ll know I have medical cases to read and research, but my desire to sit on the couch and binge watch a whole season of Chuck on Netflix always beats my sense of duty to my education. I mean, look at my blog. If I were a disciplined writer, I would be updating more than once every three months.

I know there are a lot of people far less disciplined than me, and I often try and ease my conscience by comparing myself to them, but it doesn’t negate the fact that I have a lot of growing to do.

My strong need for growth was made known to my Bible study group when I accidentally started working through the section of the book marked Revealing Your True Self. What a mistake!! The first discipline mentioned was Confession, and to practice this discipline, the author instructs the reader to split his life into 7 year periods, list out his struggles and sins during those times, and confess those to a close friend after confessing them to God.

I laughed until I realized the author was serious. Then I decided that maybe I should take baby steps into this world of discipline. I convinced myself that too much too soon could do more harm than good, so I should start with an easier discipline that didn’t involve airing my dirty laundry to the world. In my mind I’d confessed these sins to God, and he’d already forgiven me, so there was no need to expose myself to another person.

I figured that maybe Chris had found an easier discipline I could start with, so I asked him. Apparently, he made the mistake of starting with the Denying Yourself section of the book. I was going to scold him for starting at what appeared to be such an advanced section, but I was lost for words when I found out that the recommended practice for his chosen discipline was to pick out your favorite belonging then give it away as a reminder that physical belongings aren’t what matters in life.

I was about to loudly proclaim my permanent abandonment of my pursuit of discipline and burn my book, but I bought the digital version of the book and just deleting it didn’t seem to have the same dramatic flare. Plus, I was smart enough not to choose the Denying Yourself discipline, so I wasn’t the one who was supposed to get rid of a valuable object like my iPad.

After a few months of getting distracted by life and letting my book collect figurative dust in the recesses of my Kindle library, Chris and I finally started discussing the book again at our weekly Bible study a couple weeks ago. The call to confession had taken root in the back of my mind, and I realized that it was time for me take a leap of faith and be willing to expose myself to a friend.

Confession is a weird thing. I think that most protestants like me take it for granted. I actually really like the concept of confession in the traditions where parishioners confess their sins to a priest. Now, I realize that through the resurrection, Jesus is our High Priest, and we no longer need to go through a human to get to him (Hebrews 4:14-16); however, I think there is a beauty and a freedom that comes from confessing our sin out loud to another person and hearing the words, “You are forgiven.” I realize this probably sounds heretical coming from a guy raised by a Baptist preacher, but it’s true!

When reading more about the act of confession, I realized that one of the sins I needed to confess was pride. I already confessed my sin to God, but confessing my sins to another person means exposing myself, and confessing sins through the span of my life means digging up painful memories that I’ve buried deep down in dark corners of my soul. Confessing to a real person sitting on the couch in front of me means that while I am dusting off old boxes of pain and brushing spiderwebs away from shelves of sorrow and remembering combinations to locks on chests I’d planned on never opening again, I’m looking into eyes that are blinking and a chest that is breathing and hands that I hear lifting a glass of water when I look away trying to pretend I’m talking to myself.

I’ve gone to counseling before, but this is way different than counseling because I was paying that person to hear me and empathize with me. I do stupid things all the time, so I have to confess things to Bethany, but our marriage vows provide a safety net onto which I can fall. I even think that confessing to a priest or pastor behind a curtain (especially the one at the church across town from my home church which is where I would go to confess if I were Catholic) is different because he hears people’s sins all day, and he’s getting paid to listen to you.

Confessing all my dirty secrets to a friend, however, is taking the risk of someone I care about looking at me, shaking his head, and saying “Nope. Sorry. You’re way too screwed up for me to have in my life.” Or even worse, he hears my sins, reiterates that God has forgiven everything, then slowly over the next few weeks starts ignoring my calls and texts and canceling next week’s Bible study and just having “a lot on my plate right now.” The subtle yet overt rejection is a reminder that my sins are too bad and that even God must struggle loving me knowing what I am and how much I’ve wrecked the life he gave me.

But, really, all of this doubt and fear is my pride. While I am taking a risk by exposing myself, and I am opening up the chance for rejection, truthfully, my fear is that this friend will now see the real me–not the facade that I’ve been polishing and tweaking for the past ten years.

These were all the neurotic thoughts simultaneously flying around my brain as I sat across from Chris and painstakingly went through my list of sins. At the end, I looked at him, and he said with a bright smile on his face, “Brother, you are forgiven!”

I mentally began packing up my boxes and deciding on a new combination for my lockbox of secrets when I realized that I didn’t have to clean up. It’s like having those friends who just let themselves into your house without knocking, and it doesn’t really matter if your house is a mess or you’re in your underwear because they know the real you, so most pretense and modesty is lost on them anyway.

The sense of freedom that comes with that sort of transparency is outrageous!

As I drove home after Bible study, I asked myself the question, “What now?” My spiritual disciplines book is great, but it doesn’t really mention what to do after confessing. While I pondered my next steps, I recalled Jesus’ words to the woman who was caught having an affair and thrown at His feet for judgement in John 8. After dismissing her accusers, Jesus lifts her up from the dirt, looks deeply in her eyes and says, “Go, and sin no more.”

And there it is. First we confess. Next we’re forgiven. Then we walk forward into life wrapped up in the freedom of God’s grace realizing that we are no longer under the power of that sin.

Spiritual disciplines are hard–really hard! But if being disciplined were a characteristic naturally built into all humans, then we wouldn’t actually be human. It’s through building discipline in practices like healthy eating and exercising that we develop stronger bodies and it’s through practices like confession and dying to ourselves that we develop stronger souls. And its these stronger souls that are then able to continue to pursue a stronger relationship with Christ, which is truly what matters most.

Lenten Longings

I’ve never been very good at doing the whole Lent thing. Growing up in a pretty conservative Baptist church, I actually didn’t even know any Protestants that practiced Lent until I went to college. While in college, I decided to dabble in the Lenten experience by giving up cussing. (I never said I was a very good Baptist). This seemed like a great idea to me because I figured I could use it as a gateway to giving up some less savory components of my vocabulary. Unfortunately, my self control usually lasted for about 2 days until I declared to myself that I was raised Baptist, and Baptists don’t this Lent thing, and life was too short to not voice my emotions as specifically and colorfully as I felt they needed to be voiced.

This attempt at Lent went on for a couple years and the results were always the same.

My first year of medical school, I was trying to go through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline during Lent. As part of this personal study, I decided to fast every Friday during Lent. While this endeavor was filled with the best intentions, it lasted 1 week as I justified to myself that going for more than 2 hours without food was far too stressful for me in the midst of medical school. It’s also not surprising that I didn’t keep going through Celebration of Discipline.

Due to my wildly pitiful track record of Lenten sacrifices, I didn’t really consider participating in Lent again until this year. Ironically, my extensive planning for Lent began on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, when the DJ’s on the morning radio show I was listening to reminded me that Lent was starting the next day.

For some reason, I was struck with the idea that I should give Lent another try. As I quickly pondered what I should give up, I heard a little voice in the back of my head whispering “Wine, wine, wine!” Now, I’m quite accustomed to hearing this voice. I will freely admit that I share a deep and passionate love affair with red wine, so hearing my inner voice declaring that it wanted a glass of wine seemed quite natural to me. However, I realized that my inner voice wasn’t prodding me to open a bottle of cabernet. On the contrary, I believe the Holy Spirit was hanging out in my back seat (I say this figuratively because the Holy Spirit is everywhere) just waiting for the chance to let me in on his plan for the next 40 days if I was willing to accept the challenge.

Right there in the car I decided that I was going to give this Lent thing another try; however, to me that also meant celebrating Fat Tuesday, so I drove straight to the store and bought the 2 things I crave the most–a bottle of wine and an avocado. I shared the avocado with Bethany and the bottle of cabernet with my friends at our guys weekly Bible study. (We paired the cab with a box of Paczkis because that seemed a more traditional way to celebrate Fat Tuesday than the avocado I’d had earlier).

Now, I’m about a week and a half into Lent.

I’m happy to announce that I’ve lasted longer in this Lenten endeavor than I ever have before. This time of fasting from alcohol has made me realize a lot of things about myself. First off, I am not a disciplined person. I probably should have picked up on this from my previous failures at Lent, but I really am not good at saying “no” to my inner desires. This lack of self control rings true when Bethany walks into the house shaking her head holding our credit card statement. (Yeah, yeah, I’m the shopper in our family). It also is evident in the candy bar wrappers shoved in the center console of my car because I made the mistake of going grocery shopping when I was hungry, and the candy in the check out line kept calling my name. My Netflix queue also shows my lack of self denial on the days when I watched 6 episodes of Chuck instead of reading journal articles or catching up on my clinic notes or cleaning the house for Bethany.

While I am still trying to dig more into the meaning of Lent to allow me to absorb its full potential, I’m currently focusing on it as a practice of fasting and self denial as Jesus did when He spent 40 days and nights in the desert fasting and praying. As it’s told in the gospels, at the end of this period of fasting, Satan comes to Jesus and tempts Him. Jesus has just spent the last 40 days denying himself of food and water–two of the basic essentials to human life–and he is then forced to stand his ground against the great tempter. Jesus rebukes Satan with the truth of Scripture and refuses to play games.

I am called to be like Jesus, and often I can’t even hold my ground against Satan after I’ve gone for 4 hours without food much less 40 days.

I want to use this season of Lent as a time to practice some of that self denial that Jesus exemplified not only in the desert, but also in his walk on earth. He didn’t want to die on the cross, but he was willing to die as an act of obedience to his Father. In Luke 22:42, Jesus says, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42 ESV)

By giving up some of the treasures of this world for 40 days, I also want to be reminded that this world is not my home. I’m REALLY good at getting comfortable here in my world. Bethany and I are both home-bodies, and we have a beautiful apartment that we’ve made nice and cozy. I’ve built a chest and a wine rack and upcycled old furniture to customize it to our lives. Bethany has sewn pillows and curtains and made artwork to hang on our walls. We’ve spent time together in thrift stores, antique shops, and art galleries collecting things that make our home a reflection of our personalities. All of this is fine, but there is a HUGE problem when I spend more time storing up my treasures on earth rather than storing them up in heaven.

I pray that as I journey through the rest of this season of Lent that I can have a chance to grasp onto the truth of what Jesus did for me on the cross. I want the first time that I have any wine after Lent to be during a time of Communion when I break bread and drink wine as a sacrament in remembrance of Jesus’ body being broken for me on the cross. However, I don’t just want to find deeper meaning in the resurrection. Finding deeper meaning to a truth is pretty worthless if you keep it to yourself. My real prayer during Lent is that I will finally open myself up enough to the beauty of the resurrection that it just overflows out of me, and I can’t help but tell every person I see how much Jesus loves them. I don’t want a fleeting emotion. I want a fire!

If anybody that reads this and has any thoughts, I would love to start a dialogue here. I’m not any sort of a Biblical scholar or a theologian. I’m just a very broken human trying to live my life for the Jesus who loves me.

The Kitchen Island

This was my first introduction into “building.” I use the word “building” very loosely because there was actually very little “building” involved in this process…hence the reason why I keep putting “building” in quotation marks.

This whole project began when our friends Stephen and Jennifer were moving from West Virginia back to Indiana. They were performing a grand purge of their belongings to try and lighten the load they were hauling back to the flatlands. This means that I went a little bit crazy and, much to Bethany’s chagrin, brought home a car load of “treasures.”

Now, as Bethany predicted would happen when she saw the pile of things I hauled into our house, many of my new “treasures” sat in our attic until I took them to the thrift store when we moved. However, out of the four or five items that we kept from my pillaging adventure in my friends’ junk pile, there was a set of sturdy oak end tables.

One of these end tables eventually became our kitchen island. I had been wanting an island since we moved into the house due to the limited amount of counter space in our kitchen, but Bethany was hesitant. She’s a supporter of open spaces, and she was very hesitant to spend money on an island that she might really dislike. I’d searched around for different islands during the years we’d lived in our house, but I quickly found that kitchen islands are expensive! Most stores want a couple hundred bucks for a few pieces of particle board that you have to assemble on your own.

I’d seen pictures online of people repurposing dressers as kitchen islands, and I realized that dressers are big, but end tables aren’t…and I had an extra end table just sitting up in my attic.

This project involved a few simple steps.

1. Find an end table

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I’d already done that. That’s kind of where this whole idea originated.

2. Find 4 matching legs to coordinate with the already present table legs.

Thank you, Lowes. The legs I found were on sale for about $1.97 a piece

3. Get some wood glue and affix the new legs to the table legs.

I’m lucky that this part wasn’t too hard. The bottom of the actual table legs already had a hole in them, and the new leg extensions had screws built into them. All I did was widen the holes in the table legs to accommodate the new extensions, and I added some wood glue around the edges before attaching everything.

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Then I waited to let everything dry.

4. Take your wife with you to the store to pick out a paint color that you both agree on for your new kitchen island.

For some couples, this would be the hardest part of the project, but thankfully, Bethany and I really like each other a lot. Choosing paint colors can be surprisingly difficult, but we managed, and it went way better than The Sweater Incident of 2012 (maybe I’ll write a blog post about that another time).
I’m sorry I can’t remember the name of the color we picked. I read too many of these DIY blogs, and I think it’s a rule that you’re supposed to post the name of your paint color. I’ll just call it “Nondescript Blue” from Home Depot.

5. Buy some Webster’s Chalk Powder and Fiddes and Sons Wax from websterschalkpaintpowder.com.

I did quite a bit of research into the best way to paint furniture pieces, and the chalk paint method has worked well for all the projects on which I’ve used it. You can read about it on the Webster’s site.

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6. Mix your powder with your paint according to the directions, then paint your island.

Once you’ve thrown on a couple layers of paint, finish it off with the sealing wax. Again, you can read about it all on Webster’s website.

7. Take pictures and show lots of people, especially if this is your first “building” project.

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Also take notice of the sweet 70’s floor and yellow cabinets in our old house.

8. Start to plan and scheme how to get real tools, so your next “building” project actually involves real “building”. This step is essential for not only building projects but also for building one’s self esteem. After reading enough blog posts about upcycling and repainting old furniture, one realizes that most of these projects are being done by stay-at-home moms who craft in between soccer games and nap times. A project with power tools involved is a real boost to one’s sense of masculinity.

DIT (not DIY)

I don’t think I would call Bethany and I extremely creative people. We both have science based jobs, so often the right sides of our brains get a little bit neglected sometimes. I think it was out of these fits of loneliness that Bethany started sewing and I started building.

Somewhere over the past few years, we’ve found a creative groove that works for us. With the help of our friends who are actually creative (we have a lot of them) and pinterest inspiration (yes, I’ll admit that I browse around on pinterest), we slowly started to let the neglected neurons on the right get a chance to work a little bit.

I call this group of posts DIT (do it together) rather than DIY because we are both somehow involved in each of our little projects. I’ve helped Bethany cut fabric and tie knots when she’s sewing (it’s amazing how the ability to sew up a skin tear can correspond to sewing curtains), and she’s helped me measure boards and hold screws when I’m building things; however, even though it sounds a little bit corny, we help each other the most by providing a lot of moral support. After spending an entire day of planning and scheming, you really need someone to tell you the 4 boards you’ve cut and screwed together look good.

Hopefully these posts will help you see that you don’t have to be a professional wood carver or a Mennonite to build and sew. You just need a source of inspiration. Maybe you can find that here.

Scouting the Divine: A Book Review

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I was initially hesitant to join Margaret Feinberg in her quest for Scouting the Divine. Prior to reading the book, I didn’t know anything about the author or her religious beliefs, and in reading the book’s back cover and first few paragraphs, I was unable to get a solid grasp on what divinity was being pursued. In the second paragraph, Feinberg writes,

“While some dismiss the Bible as a dusty old book, I view its pages as portals to adventure. Not only is the book chock-full of clever plots and compelling stories, but it’s laced with historical insights and literary beauty. When I open the Scripture, I imagine myself exploring an ancient kingdom…at every turn I meet kings and queens, scribes, and poets, all sharing their stories of courage and faith.”

All of these sentiments are nice, but I still couldn’t get a firm grasp on whether the author thinks the Bible is more than just an ancient version The Game of Thrones. While everything in her description was true, I was getting a little nervous over the fact that she never mentioned that the Bible is also the inspired word of God. I was fearful that the next 200 pages would either be filled with heretical views on the Scriptures that I hold dear or a self indulging diatribe of the author searching for some emotional revelation. I was nervous this was going to be a fruitless attempt at a “Christian” version of Eat, Pray, Love.

What I found instead was a sister in Christ who realizes that modern day Christians are missing out on a level of beauty and depth of the Scriptures because of our urban culture. While each word in the Bible is true and applicable to every human being, there’s an angle of understanding we miss by spending so much time on streets and sidewalks instead of pastures and vineyards.

Throughout the entire Bible, including Psalm 23, one of the most famous Psalms, we see the analogy of the Lord being our Shepherd. But what does this really mean to us if we’ve never even seen a real sheep outside of the zoo? In the Old Testament, the Promised Land is described as the “land of milk and honey,” but are we missing out on a deeper truth if we’ve never milked a cow and our honey comes in a plastic, bear shaped bottle from the supermarket?

Feinberg approaches these issues as a true journalist. Throughout the book, she spends time with and interviews a shepherdess in Oregon, a farmer in Nebraska, a beekeeper in Colorado, and a vintner in California. It’s obvious through her line of questioning that she prepared for her interviews by meticulously scouring the Scriptures for passages relating to the topics she wanted to study. She delves into the original Greek and Hebrew texts proving that this is not a self indulgent vacation but rather an academic endeavor. Throughout the pages of this book, she weaves deep Biblical truth with a relaxed narrative that allows the reader to feel that he or she is present throughout her journey.

While I was very impressed by Feinberg’s preparation for this book and initiative in pursuing her subjects, I was most moved by her trip to Sonoma and Napa Valley in California to explore the Scriptures relating to grapes, vines, wine, and viniculture. While sharing lunch with her husband and the vintner she was interviewing, he pulled a bottle of Chardonnay out of the cellar at his vineyard and described the complexities of the flavors. When offered a taste of the wine, the author purposefully abstained because she realized that this could have a negative impact on some of those reading her book that held different religious views than her own or those who had been personally affected by alcohol abuse.

While I initially questioned this book, I found myself disappointed that it was over as I finished reading the last paragraph. Feinberg led me on a journey across the U.S. which not only gave me an interesting insight into professions much different than my own, but she also helped the Bible come alive to me in a brand new way. This book is definitely worth reading and sharing with your friends.

A Digital Christmas Card

2013 has been a pretty eventful year for the West Virginia based Hamptons.  Since actually printing, addressing, stamping, and sending out real Christmas cards takes a significant amount of time and foresight, I opted for a digital Christmas card.  Hopefully between the combination of text and pictures, you can get a good idea of what our year looked like.  Since 2013 was a busy year, I tried to break things down for everyone and provide the top 5 life events for us this year.

1.) I graduated from medical school

Well, this was a pretty big deal.  After a few hundred thousand dollars in loans and eight years in higher education, I took a very short walk across a stage and came down the stairs on the other side a doctor.  I’m glad my brother was there to take a video of it because I really don’t remember very much about the exact moment.  It was all kind of surreal, and it flew by really quickly. 

It was, however, a great weekend to spend with my family and Bethany’s parents.  We sat and laughed and ate and laughed and ate a little bit more.  After all this time, it seemed fitting to share this time with the people who were with me through the years of worrying, praying, crying, stress eating, laughing, and more of the same.  As graduation weekend flew by, I was continually reminded of how far God has brought me.  It is only by his grace and mercy that I can now call myself a doctor.

Image2.) We’re staying in Lewisburg for a little bit longer!

When 2013 began, Bethany and I were cherishing our last few months in West Virginia as I finished the process of applying for Ob/Gyn residencies.  Our plans, however, were radically changed when I wasn’t offered a position at any of the residencies where I applied.  Initially, I really struggled with feeling like God had somehow stopped watching over me.  My fears of failure and rejection that I’d been battling for years seemed to be coming to fruition, and I was given the choice of whether or not I was going to trust that God really did know what he was doing.

Initially, I signed on for a one year internship at the hospital in Lewisburg to allow me a transitional time as I prepared to go through the application process for Ob/Gyn again.  However, Bethany and I were still actively praying about what God had for us.  I slowly began to realize that God was no longer leading me toward a career in Ob/Gyn.  I still love delivering babies and scrubbing in on gynecologic surgeries, but I realize now that God is calling me to stay in Lewisburg and finish the family medicine residency here.  The months surrounding this whole ordeal were definitely a struggle, but God took his time with me and showed me that his plan is ALWAYS perfect!

During this time, I clung tightly to Jeremiah 29:11 where God promises that he “knows the plans he has for me.”  I also spent lots of time staring at the pages of Philippians 4 where I’m urged to “be anxious for nothing.”  I’m promised that if I pray to God instead of worrying, I will be filled with “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.”  God never promises that my life will be easy, but he continually promises that he will be with me through the dark times.

 3.) We moved

The House with the Yellow Door was the first home that Bethany and I shared together, and it was the perfect first home; however, this year brought the need for a change.  Originally as I was searching for Ob/Gyn residencies, we were planning on moving out of West Virginia to somewhere exotic like…Michigan or Ohio.  When we realized that we’d be sticking around our wild and wonderful state for a few more years, we decided a move was still in order, so we packed up all of our belongings and moved “to the country.”  Truthfully, our new house is 2.3 miles down the road from our old house, but we traded our little neighborhood and our short walk to downtown for an expansive view of the mountains that we’ve come to love.

ImageOur new home is beautiful and boasts a dishwasher and stainless steel appliances, but our new front porch looks naked without Orange Cat waiting for us to come home every day.  We miss that little guy.  People asked why we didn’t take him with us, but I think it takes a special kind of crazy to steal the little neighbor lady’s cat regardless of how much he might love you.

Image4.) We went to Europe

ImageThis trip came to be after a 6 week medical mission trip to Sierra Leone was unexpectedly cancelled.  Originally, we’d scheduled a 2 day layover in Paris at the end of the trip, so we were not only disappointed that we were missing out on the mission experience, but we were also going to miss out on sharing a day together in the most romantic city in the world.  My genius wife solved this problem by sending me on an intense scavenger hunt through Lewisburg (and I mean a literal scavenger hunt with very well sculpted poems as my clues) which ended in a wild finale back at our house with a multicultural lunch consisting of tapas, French wine and cheese, and tiramisu where I was presented with my graduation present—a trip to Europe!

ImageDuring our two week excursion through Europe, we visited Paris, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, and Barcelona.  We met wonderful people, ate exquisite food, saw lots of historic sites, and shared memories that I will cherish forever!  I could take up pages writing about this adventure, but I’ll settle for sharing a few pictures.

5.) Bethany submitted a paper for publication

One of the many blessings that is coming to be through us staying in Lewisburg is that Bethany gets to keep working at her job.  This is my chance to brag on her since she’s far too modest regarding how awesome she is! She does research at the medical school where I graduated from and is also responsible for overseeing the students doing research in her labs.  One of her projects involves studying ischemia reperfusion injury on cardiac myocytes after undergoing revascularization post MI.  (In real people talk, she is studying the damage that heart cells have undergone after someone has been treated for a heart attack).  She also works with a professor who is studying the difference in gait patterns between runners wearing traditional running shoes and vibram five finger shoes. 

I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone, but she is GREAT at her job!  Several of her students have won awards for the research she’s directed them in, and she’s been the primary workforce behind several projects in her labs.  I’m so crazy proud of her because after hours upon hours of hard work, her lab has just submitted an article for publication, and the next one is in the works for release early next year.

 

2013 has been a wild year, and Bethany and I are excited and hopeful for what 2014 holds for us.  We pray that God will continue to pull us closer to him as we go through this next year.

We also pray that each one of you will have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed year in 2014.

Chipped Glasses

Bethany and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary in June. We did this in a pretty simple and traditional manner by exchanging gifts and going out to dinner. When I actually see the description of our anniversary night, it seems kind of disappointing. For being young and only married for a few years, I kind of wish we had a better anniversary story. But, no. I gave Bethany a pair of earrings (which I’d bought for her that day because I may or may not have almost forgotten our anniversary), and she gave me a gift card to Lowes to pick out a power tool of my choice—pretty typical anniversary presents. We exchanged these gifts on a Tuesday night in a restaurant that was completely empty except for two other couples in their sixties.

On paper (or computer screen), this description looks pretty boring; however, Bethany loved the earrings, and she knew that I wanted to start building a collection of power tools. Also, we had a gift card for our restaurant, and saving money is kind of a big deal right now because I just graduated from medical school, and payments are now due each month for the $300,000 I’ve racked up in school loans. At the time, we’d also just returned from a trip to Europe, and we were moving to a new apartment in 2 days. Yeah, our anniversary was pretty generic, but the days surrounding it were sprouting with blooms of activity.

Sometimes, I describe my married life to people, and I get scared that it’s really boring. Bethany and I go to work and then we come home, eat dinner, and watch some TV. A lot of our weekends consist of sitting, taking naps, eating, and watching more TV. We consider getting Papa John’s, renting a movie, and making a pitcher of mojitos on a Saturday night to be a big occurrence. Neither of us was ever into the party scene, and we live in a small town where even the bars are closed by 9 or 10 most nights of the week (if they’re even open).

I was lamenting to myself a bit ago that Bethany and I have a pretty boring married life, but then I sat down and poured a glass of wine and took a look out my window at our view of the Appalachian Mountains. I realized that maybe our life isn’t as boring as it could be.

I just graduated from medical school, and I am finally making a paycheck that is substantial enough to live off of for the first time in my life. We finally replaced my 1997 Pontiac Bonneville that was handed down to me by my parents when I left for college. Bethany has a job that she loves and is really super good at doing. We just moved into a new apartment with central air and a stainless steel dishwasher. We’ve had time to nestle into our new home. Bethany sewed throw pillows; I built a wine rack out of old pallets; and we recovered our dining room chairs together.

We saved up our money for four years and went on a trip to Europe. We have tried to assimilate to our lives in West Virginia and now we have a garden and do things like camping, kayaking, and making dandelion wine. (Even though Bethany resented the fact that I made her help me pick a gallon of dandelions out of our yard). Sometimes I even milk our friend’s cow and use the milk to make ice cream.

Yesterday we went to hang out with some friends who are newlyweds. I walked through their house and looked at all of their new things that they got as wedding presents and recalled what life was like when Bethany and I unpacked all of our gifts into our first house. We had brand new dishes, cups, and wine glasses. The crumb tray in our toaster was empty, and our broiling pan was spotless. Our sheets were perfectly folded, our towels were fluffy, and our duvet cover was a pristine white. Our knives were perfectly sharpened, and my tools were organized in my tool bag.

We were starting a new life together that was sparkling clean and full of possibilities.

Now, after 3 ½ years, a lot has changed. Thanks to my clumsiness, we no longer have a full set of dishes. Our toaster tray is full of crumbs, and our broiling pan looks disgusting no matter how hard we scrub it. Our towels aren’t fluffy anymore, our sheets don’t always get folded, and our duvet holds the evidence that we sometimes eat snacks while we watch TV in bed. We started with a set of 12 drinking cups, and we’ve broken all but four; even right now, I’m drinking my wine out of a chipped crystal wine glass.

Our wedding gifts have started to show their age.

So has our marriage.

The two, however, have aged very differently.

With each life experience we share together, our marriage is growing stronger. Our wine glasses might be chipped, and we might have an odd number of salad plates, but living life together has brought us so much closer to each other. I’ve rubbed Bethany’s back when she was frustrated because her experiments at work weren’t working properly. She held me while I worried over not getting the residency that I wanted. Through it all, each moment has been shared together. While sometimes we might think we’re boring or get worried that our sex life isn’t spicy enough, we are taking each step in life together.

I hope and pray that when next June rolls around and we’re celebrating another anniversary, we’ll be able to raise our glasses and make a toast celebrating another year of love and growth.

And maybe

Just maybe

This toast will be made in matching glasses

Without any chipped edges.

If I Die Young

Within the last year, Bethany and I have had some encounters with death through various friends’ family members dying and more recently, Bethany’s grandma passing away.  Our dear friend Andrea and her family faced a daunting task with the death of her grandpa because his death was rather sudden, and he hadn’t made any end of life plans.  This left Andrea and her family with the responsibility of trying to plan his funeral and arrange his affairs in a way that would have pleased him.

In typical Andrea fashion, she swore that she would not leave her husband and family in such a situation if her time on this earth ended unexpectedly.  She swiftly flew into action and began arranging her end of life affairs.  She drew up a will ensuring that her dogs would be cared for if she and her husband died, and Bethany and I received the honor of being second in line to inherit the pups.  (I was a little bit hurt that we weren’t first in line, but then I remembered the week that we took care of her very energetic 11 month old golden retriever, and I decided I was okay not being first in line).  Andrea even went as far as making a powerpoint of pictures, picking out music, and planning an order of service for her memorial.

All of Andrea’s preparation got me thinking about what I want to happen if I die suddenly.  I also council all of my patients who I admit into the hospital to have adequate end of life planning, so I figured I should probably have some too.  I didn’t want to go overboard, but I sat down one night and told Bethany what I want if I die.

I want my body to be donated to science, so budding medical students can use my earthly body to learn anatomy.  When it’s all done, I want to be cremated and for my ashes to be scattered somewhere nice.  I don’t really care where they’re scattered.  I told Bethany to plan a nice vacation to the Caribbean with her best friend, Amanda, and take some time in between the drinking to sprinkle my ashes into the ocean.  For my funeral, I really don’t want an open casket.  I just think there is something odd about having my corpse dressed up and covered in makeup, so people can walk by and look at it.  I know studies have been done showing that seeing the dead body can help the family have a sense of closure, but I just don’t want to be remembered as a powdered and preserved hunk of flesh.  I want people to remember me as vivacious and full of life.

I also have some specific requests for my memorial.  I don’t want a somber viewing in a dark funeral parlor with sprays of carnations and mauve curtains.  Bethany knows I hate carnations, and funeral parlors are super depressing.  If a party is being thrown in my honor, it’s just poor taste to hold it in a place that fosters such a solemn mood.

I want a cocktail party with lots of wine and cheese and hours de vourres.  Now, I don’t want this to cost Bethany a lot of money, so it would be nice if my friends all brought a bottle of their favorite wine and shared it with everyone in my memory.  There also needs to be good music.  I know I won’t be there, but if a group of people is gathering together because of me, I don’t want them to be forced to listen to whatever depressing CD the funeral director keeps in his stereo.  I’ll leave the final choices up to Bethany or whoever she turfs the job to, but I hope people will be serenaded by Joni Mitchell, Over the Rhine, Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkle, Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, and the Civil Wars.  Alright—maybe the music will be depressing, but at least it will be good music!

After my old friends have had a chance to catch up, mingle, and share some wine and cheese, I want a simple worship service celebrating our life in Christ.  I want someone with a guitar to lead the attendees in some good praise and worship songs.  I don’t really care which ones as long as “I’ll Fly Away” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” are included.  I want either my best friend, Jon Erik, or his wife Katie to give a simple sermon about how short our time on earth is but how vast our eternity with God will be if we accept Him.  There doesn’t have to be an official altar call, but I want the gospel presented in a clear and beautiful way.  I hope when I die I will have lived a life that will have been an example for Christ, and I want the people who attend my funeral to know that Christ was the most important thing to me. 

At some point, I want the song “Be Still My Soul” to be played for Bethany and my family to remind them that while I’m gone, they don’t have to be sad.  The same God who called me home is there to comfort them and allow them to keep living life to the fullest.  Immediately after that I want a funny song that seems inappropriate to be played at a funeral to make people laugh.  I don’t care what it is.  Maybe “What Does the Fox Say?” or “Short People” by Randy Newman.  I want people to be caught off guard and for the crying mourners to be so distracted that they forget to be sad.  It would also be nice if it’s something that will embarrass my Mom a little bit and make her shake her head and blush.

Then I told Bethany that after the funeral is over, and she’s mourned for a little while, I want her to think about dating again.  Especially if I die when I’m young, I want her to get remarried.  I always want her to hold my memory close to her heart, but I never want to think that my death will cause her spirit to die too.  I hope she’ll find love again and get remarried and keep living her life to the fullest.  That’s my wish for her.

As I was communicating my desires to Bethany, she just kept getting more and more quiet.  Finally looked up at me and whispered,

“Stop.”

I looked at her confused and slightly offended.  Why didn’t she want to know my plans for when I’m gone?  In a sheepish voice she whispered,

“I don’t want to think about you dying.  I don’t want to think about ever being with someone else.  Does this mean you’d get remarried if I died?”

At this point I felt like a soldier standing at the edge of a field littered with land mines.  There were many paths I could take to get to the other side of this conversation, but one wrong step, and this all could blow up in my face.

I looked deep in to my wife’s eyes as she peered up at me like a wounded baby bird, and I contemplated how honest I was going to be.  Suddenly I pulled up my bootstraps and decided to charge forward.

“Bethany, if you die young, I’ll mourn for a little while, and I’ll be sad, but I probably will get remarried.  It only makes sense. “

The conversation went on for a while longer and she kept getting quiet and looking hurt, but I figured I should be honest with her.

I kind of forgot about the conversation until a couple weeks later when Bethany was late coming home from work.  I called and texted, but there was no response.  I called and texted a few more times.  Still nothing. 

 In my head I knew everything was fine.  She probably had to work late and left her phone on vibrate in her purse; but in my heart I kept imagining ominous scenarios about a pickup truck with a big, hairy, drunk driver who came flying around a corner and slammed into Bethany’s little Honda Civic.  She is so cute and small that she was immediately killed on impact, and her purse was thrown from the car and hanging in a nearby tree, so the police arriving on the scene didn’t know who to call.  The car exploded soon after the collision due to a leak in the gas tank, and there wasn’t even a way to trace the car back to me.  When she still wasn’t home later that night, I would try to call the police to report a missing person, but they would kindly tell me that she wasn’t officially a missing person until she’d been gone for 24 hours.  Then they would question my marriage and ask if there was a reason why my wife would want to leave and not tell me where was.  Was there a problem with our marriage?  Could she no longer take all the emotional abuse?  The operator would then snicker and sarcastically say, “Good luck” before hanging up on me.   I watch a lot of TV shows that are very realistic, so I obviously know exactly how all of this works.

This whole scenario was formed and solidified in my mind in about 15 seconds, and just as I was grabbing my keys to drive around and look for her, I saw her little Honda Civic pull into the driveway.  Tears immediately welled up in my eyes, and I realized what my life would be like if I lost Bethany.  I was no longer a rational man planning my funeral and considering the likelihood of a widowed thirty year old getting remarried.  I was a man whose world had just stopped.  The person who I’d centered my entire world around was gone, and I couldn’t breathe.  It’s not just that I couldn’t breathe, but I couldn’t find a reason to breath.  I no longer had a reason to finish residency.  I no longer had a reason to wake up in the morning.  For a moment, there was no reason to not pull the bottle of gin out of my refrigerator and start chugging it just to dull some of the pain. 

Moments later Bethany walked in the door covered in sweat and breathing heavily.  She was home late because she went running.  As I stared at this glistening, rare figure of beauty in a yellow halter top and purple mesh shorts, she gazed back at me and saw a tall, skinny, disaster with tears welling up in his eyes gripping a bottle of gin.  I’ll admit, this wasn’t one of my prouder moments.  I briefly described the turmoil she’d put me through, and she laughed and shook her head as she pulled off her shoes and headed to the shower.

Now, after all this craziness, I finally see things from Bethany’s perspective.  I’m a guy who can (sometimes) compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings, but if she thinks about death or funerals or remarriage, all she wants to do is reach for the bottle of gin.

Thankfully, we’re both healthy and in love.  We have Jesus and each other, and we’re happy with that.  Now, Bethany tries to do better at letting me know when she’ll be home late from work, and the bottle of gin only gets pulled out for those weekend nights when we have a hankering for gin and tonics.