famiglia

I come from a large and wonderful family. Just as I firmly believe that God placed me in the best country on earth, I have an unswerving conviction that I am part of the greatest family. My parents are my role models. My sisters are my closest friends. We love and care for each other in a way that is rare in the world today. We are bright lights in a very dark place. 

This light is not always well received. There are those who seek to destroy us, to tear us down, out of envy, malice, or spite. We are reviled, vilified, maligned, and despised. These attacks are painful, and plentiful. 

But this is what I say to the haters out there. 

You will not shake my faith in my family. We are loving, generous people and we will continue to prove that, day after day. We will fight back with our loyalty to each other and our love for the Lord. 

You will not shake my faith in myself. I am a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter, and a good friend. I am a child of the King, saved by grace, walking a path of sanctification. I am not perfect, but my Creator is faithful to finish the work He began in me.

Above all, you will not shake my faith in God. He placed my family together and I believe He will hold us together. The words of Matthew 5 have come to my mind many times. Seek peace. Be merciful. Keep your heart pure. Love and pray for those who hate you. Do not hide the Light within you. 

And we will. Long after the hurt has healed and the harshness has faded, we will pray for the ones who tried to extinguish our light with the darkness of bitterness, hatred, and lies. We will have open doors and open hearts. We will be steadfast in our desire for peace. And we will stand united in the face of adversity. After all, we are family. 

=)

 

 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

James 1.2-3

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Matthew 5:11-12

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navigating interfeminine relationships: the strong woman, part II

It should be noted that strong women recognize and admire each other. Without the interference of insecurity and intimidation, friendships are easier to form. I am blessed to have a handful of good friends, and encountering the issues I’ve expressed makes me even more grateful for them.

Many of my strengths are concentrated in the area of traditional female roles. Caring for my children, cooking dinner for my family, and keeping a clean house, for example. Growing up, I was trained to develop these skills and see value in them.

I find that many women are insecure about their status in those traditional female roles. This insecurity then becomes a factor in forming a friendship. While I can understand this, I’m not sure how to respond to it.

This home, and my family, is my career. I “go to work” each day and although the workload changes day to day, there’s rarely a time I feel off the clock. Like any other employee, I want be good at my job. I try not to complain. I work overtime (those 2am feedings…). I brainstorm ways my family could operate more productively. I put my family’s wellbeing above my own interests. If I were working for a corporation, I think my seven years as a wife would have earned me a promotion by now, and perhaps a significant raise upon the birth of my fourth child a few months ago.

There are many tasks involved with being a wife and mother, and I don’t particularly love all of them. Cleaning and cooking aren’t my favorite things to do. Although we could use a maid service and get takeout every night, I choose to do this work myself because it’s the best decision for my family.

So I am good at these few things. As my mother would say – it would be a shame if I wasn’t, after this much practice.

You may come to my home and find it neat. It is neat because I like it that way, not because I am trying to impress you. However, you may start to feel guilty about your own untidy home. You then feel uneasy around me. Why does it have to be this way? Why does my organization need to interfere with our relationship? My value of you as a friend is not based on the cleanliness of your home.

You may see me arrive to an event on time, with my children clean, dressed, and fed. I will not be in my pajamas and I will most likely be prepared for the event in question. This doesn’t happen by accident, of course. It’s a challenge. Life is a challenge. But why should I have to feel like a show-off for accomplishing this?

You may hear that several of my children were born at home. This doesn’t make me a better woman, or even necessarily a stronger woman, than you. It simply means I made specific decisions with my prenatal care. You may feel intimidated by this, assuming I look down on you because you made different choices. You then feel resentful of me and my “perfect births.” Why is this? My value of you as a friend is not based on whether a surgeon or midwife delivered your baby.

You may ask me how I’m doing and conclude that my cheerful response is a calculated lie in order to make myself look good. You then feel mistrustful of me, which negatively affects our friendship. Actually, one of the benefits of having a well-ordered life is that many common frustrations can be avoided. While everyone can come up with something to complain about if they try hard enough, I’ve learned the importance of keeping a positive outlook. Shouldn’t we emphasize our blessings more than our problems?

Every woman has valuable skills and talents. I truly believe that we can learn something from everyone. Employees have different strengths, and so do we as wives and mothers. It’s not personal, it’s business – the business of raising a family. Choose to think the best.

=)

 

Click here to read Part I of this series. 

navigating interfeminine relationships: the strong woman, part I

I am a strong woman.

Most people would agree with that, I think. Too strong, too blunt, too cold, too harsh; those are usually the criticisms.

Women talk a good game about strength. It’s always seen as a positive quality, in theory. We applaud feel-good sentiments like #girlpower and #bossbabe. We post quotes like this one:

Here’s to strong women.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them. 

These taglines make sense when you consider the feminist agenda. Women want to be powerful, like men. They want to be the boss, like men. They want to be strong, like men.

Why do I consider myself strong?

Well, I have strong convictions. I have a strong faith. I have strong character traits (both good and bad). I have a high level of confidence. I adequately manage my personal life, my marriage, my children, and my home. I am secure and stable.

You would think, based on everything out there, that I would be lauded for this strength. That other, weaker, women would be crowding around to learn my secrets. I assure you this is not the case. Far from it. To my surprise, these qualities of mine are actually a liability when it comes to developing friendships with other women.

I can now say with certainty that most women do not like strong women. Apparently strength should be used to fight men, not to live life.

But why?

The evidence is clear. I know the type of women who are popular. They are fragile, emotional creatures. They look out at the world with a trace of confusion, timidity, or exhaustion. They give off the impression of being ready to fall apart at a moment’s notice. They could never be expected to keep up with the demands of daily life. They need, or appear to need, help.

The key to popularity is relatability. Not ever looking like you have it all together. Anything that approaches competency is shunned as “fake,” since surely it’s impossible for an ordinary woman to rise early, work hard, and produce good results. A picture-perfect existence must be left to celebrities we adore from a distance.

Everyone has struggles. My daughter isn’t always honest, my son has a stutter, my baby doesn’t sleep through the night, I’m too tired to work out, we should eat more veggies, our energy bill is too high… the list goes on. (Notice I didn’t say I need to lose weight or my children are terrors – the battle for relatability is already lost.) I’m happy to tell you about my problems if you ask, but I think it’s smarter to analyze an issue, come up with a practical solution, and just deal with it. Choosing positivity shouldn’t be mistaken for a deceptive facade.

My mother raised four daughters to be self-sufficient. She taught us to expect a lot from ourselves, to get up and keep going even when you don’t feel like it. She taught us that words are cheap, that people do what they want to do, that you make your bed and you lie in it, to roll with the punch, to smile and go on. All of these expressions add up to one thing: strength.

Is it popular? No.

But is it necessary? Absolutely.

I hope to raise my daughters the same way. They’ll probably never have a crowd of superficial friends, but they will have a very good chance of becoming excellent wives and mothers.

So here’s to strong women.

 

=)

aaron henry’s birth story

IMG_0983-3

8 hours old

A year ago I was still pregnant! Aaron Henry’s birthday is tomorrow, and I’m finally taking the time to write down my memories from his birth.

(If you want the short version of this story, here it is: I was pregnant, and then I had a baby. At home. Yay! The end.)

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My due date for Aaron was June 15, and when the pregnancy started we laughed about having a Fourth of July baby (because Sophia was born 10 days past her due date and Zoe was 19 days past hers). But as time went on and I got more uncomfortable, I started convincing myself he could be early! As usual for me, I looked seriously ready to pop by about 36 weeks. Those last few weeks were tough. I was working with a wonderful midwife, the same one I used with Zoe’s home birth, and she’s one of the most even-keeled people I’ve ever met. I remember telling her that I was crying almost every night, from all the emotions, and the hip pain, and the exhaustion, and she just nodded calmly and said yes, that’s quite normal.

June 14 was a Sunday, and my sister Christine had a big party for her husband Isaac’s 30th birthday. It was an outdoor pool party at my parents’ house, and we went over with the girls (hard to imagine those days of only having 2 kids!) for a few hours. It was SO hot, one of the hottest days in the summer, I think! I remember having a pretty nice time, chatting with Isaac’s parents, and leaving early to bring the kids home for bed.

The next morning (Monday, June 15), Greg and I were having coffee before he left for work, and all the sudden I had a little gush of water. I waited a few minutes to see if there would be more, but there wasn’t… but it was hard not to feel a tiny bit excited because I figured it must be amniotic fluid leaking. (–> something is happening!) Greg left for work, since I wasn’t having any contractions. Over the next hour, I had several more large gushes of water, and I texted my midwife. She came over to check on me. Her notes from the visit say fetal heart rate and movement were good, and my pulse was higher than usual. She took my temperature as well – 97.6, so no fever. I asked her what to expect – is this labor? I didn’t have contractions, only some cramping. She said this type of leaking is a partial rupture of membranes, probably just the outer sac, and most women go into active labor within the next 12 hours. She left, and said to call her if anything changed.

12 hours is such a short time frame. I started hoping we might have the baby that day! Even Monday night would be great. The day passed without contractions, trying to rest and take care of Sophia & Zoe. It was hard to feel normal with water leaking consistently. I spent the afternoon laying on the couch with a towel folded under me. By evening, the leaking was less, and I think we might have taken a walk around the neighborhood.

Monday night I finally had a few contractions, one of the funny ironies of pregnancy – not strong enough to be labor but strong enough to keep me awake. By Tuesday morning I was tired and disappointed that it had been over 12 hours and I wasn’t in labor.

Tuesday is kind of a blur – my midwife visited at some point in the day, took my temperature again (97.9, according to her notes), and checked on the baby. I had some stronger contractions that day, but they were very few and far between. By that night I was trying to accept the fact that we could wait another week or so. It’s so hard not knowing what to expect!

Wednesday morning came (June 17) and I saw some pink mucus plug, a fairly encouraging sign. Greg stayed home from work that day. I had more cramping, took my temperature (97.8), and had breakfast. Around 10.30am I had a wave of strong contractions, 7 minutes apart. We decided to ask my mom to pick the girls up and take them to her house. I felt like I was falling apart emotionally, crying because it hurt, tired and impatient, and I didn’t want the girls to see that. The girls left at 11.30, my midwife and her assistant arrived, and we thought, this is it! For the next 2 hours my contractions were between 7 and 10 minutes apart. They didn’t pick up or get stronger. I think I’ve finally learned that I don’t labor well when people are watching. It’s like pressure to perform well. At 1.30pm my midwife did my first exam (4cm) and pulled my cervix forward. With Zoe’s birth, this little procedure had kickstarted active labor, and she was born a few hours later. I thought maybe the same thing would happen this time? Instead, contractions kept slowing down. I tried a few different positions, used my breast pump for a few minutes, and then gave up and took a nap.

At 5pm, it had been almost 60 hours since my water first started leaking, but everything still looked perfect with the baby. His heart rate was strong, and I didn’t have a fever (one of the first signs of infection). I remember sitting in the living room with our midwives and Greg, trying to regroup. I wasn’t in labor, even though we had tried to get it started. I felt silly that the girls were with mom, since I wasn’t having the baby! We thought about going to pick them up. My midwife suggested we take our minds off labor and go out to dinner alone. Her suggestions are always what I least feel like doing, and yet perfectly logical! She reminded me that sometimes labor starts at night, once your body finally relaxes.

I think Greg & I had Thai takeout from Basil for dinner (neither of us can remember for sure). We called Joshua & Julianna and asked if they wanted to come over for a movie. In true Spurlock style, they dropped everything they were doing and came right over, with a box of Fred Astaire DVDs and ingredients for mojitos! Normally I don’t have cocktails when I’m pregnant, but I made an exception this evening and told Joshua I really needed one. It hadn’t been the most active day, but I felt so drained by the emotional ups and downs. We watched Swing Time (had to check this with Julianna because I was a little out of it that night!). I fell asleep during the last half hour and hoped no one noticed.

The Spurlocks left when the movie was over, a few minutes before 10pm, and I didn’t have the energy to move off the couch or get ready for bed. I had finally found a comfortable position – a miracle at 40 weeks pregnant! Greg, sweetest husband in the world, curled up at the other end of the couch to keep me company, and we both fell soundly asleep.

A few minutes later, a giant contraction flung me off the couch. Until now, I had been breathing gently through contractions but this one was so bad I couldn’t help but scream (the moment when you realize with horror, all of that was nothing compared to now). Greg woke up to see what was going on. I checked my phone and it was exactly 10pm. I figured it was a fluke, and we went back to sleep.

Exactly five minutes later, the same thing happened. And then again, five minutes later. They were so hard and so long that by 10.15, I was shouting at Greg to text our midwife right away because she might not make it here in time. I started heading for the bathtub, crawling down the hallway on my hands and knees between contractions. By 10.20, they were 4 minutes apart. I made it to the tub and got in.

The midwives arrived at 11.15. I stayed in the tub for about 2 hours, with contractions 3-4 minutes apart, horribly intense. Some people enjoy the challenge of labor but not me. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I was praying for strength and feeling very grateful the girls were at mom’s house!

My midwife’s notes from the birth are very detailed, and she records 12.50-1.40am as time when I was out of the tub, trying some different positions on the bed. This was her idea, naturally. That hour was the worst part. I should have known I was in transition – when I completely give up and beg to go to the hospital for drugs, that means we’re really close to the end, although no one ever says that, just in case it’s not true. My midwife is not one for snuggly reassurances. Her version of encouragement is “Instead of saying, ‘I can’t,’ why don’t you try saying ‘I can?'” and “You’re stronger than you think you are.” It doesn’t seem overly effective at the time, but she’s helped a nervous Type-A with low pain tolerance to have two home births, so I guess she’s doing something right.

Somewhere in there I remember the line “GIVE ME THE KEYS I’M GOING NOW,” but at 1.40am, instead of getting in the car, I got back in the tub and starting pushing my baby out. 15 minutes later we could see his head. It was a relief to be pushing – like most women, I like that part best. I remember clearly hearing my midwife tell me that keeping breath inside makes pushing more effective (instead of exhaling through a contraction), so I got very quiet and focused on pushing. At 2.16, his head was out, and a minute later it was over. There’s no feeling in the world like reaching down to pick up your baby the moment he’s born, that flood of happiness and love. I knew right away he was a good size, over 8lbs like his sisters. And I thought he was the most handsome boy I’d ever seen, obviously.

We stayed in the bathtub for a few minutes, and then Greg cut the cord and he held Aaron Henry while I waited for the placenta to detach. It came out easily, and by 2.50am I was tucked into bed nursing Aaron Henry for the first time. That first hour of a baby’s life is so special! I wish it was recorded so we could relive those moments again. I’d had a basket on our dresser for weeks with a nursing tank & pjs for me, a baby blanket, and a tiny kimono onesie + pants for the baby.

So the total time for active labor was recorded as 4 hours, 7 minutes. That’s fast! Zoe’s labor was similar overall – lots of “warm-up” time with contractions here and there, lots of downtime that left you wondering what was going on, and then an intense few hours. Hers was more like 6 hours, I think, and this one was 4… what does that mean about a next birth??

My fabulous midwives ran around while I nursed Aaron and dressed him – they cleaned up everything, examined the placenta, packed up their supplies, then weighed and measured him. He was a full 8lbs 12oz, and 20 1/2″! They left around 4am, I think. Greg fell asleep but I was full of adrenaline. I have a picture I took around sunrise that morning (June 18) of my husband and newborn son fast asleep. It reminds me of how still the house was, just the three of us at that moment, as if he was our only child. Sophia & Zoe came home a few hours later, and we started the adventure of being a family of 5!

That’s the story… writing it down helps me remember how much we have to be grateful for! The unusual thing about this birth was my water partially breaking 3 days before Aaron was born, but there were no problems from it. The birth itself was also free of any complications! My son was strong and healthy. I feel so blessed that I was able to deliver him at home, thanks to the amazing and supportive people around me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was Aaron Henry’s perfect birth.

=)

easy gluten free challah tutorial

I’ve been using a recipe from Chaviva Gordon-Bennett’s blog (“the best gluten free challah recipe you’ll find!“) since the beginning of 2015, and I’ve come up with a few ways to streamline and simplify it. If you thought gluten free challah was overwhelming, give this one a try! It’s easy enough that I’ve been able to make it every week, even with three little berries underfoot. =)

This recipe is designed to be baked in a silicone challah pan like this one or this one. If you’re interested in making gluten free challah, these pans are pretty essential! They give the loaves a beautiful “braided” look – a huge help since gluten free bread dough is a lot like cookie dough, almost impossible to braid by hand.

One of the things I love about this recipe is that the ingredients are super simple, and there’s very few of them! You’ll need active dry yeast, sugar, oats (or oat flour), a basic all purpose gluten free flour blend (preferably containing xanthan gum, otherwise add it separately), salt, honey, oileggs, and almond milk. Continue reading

aaron henry bartos

My son was born on June 18 at 2.17am. He is just as sweet and easygoing as I imagined a third child would be. He has brown eyes, a big appetite, and a smile that absolutely melts my heart.

He is named after his father, Gregory Aaron, as well as Aaron {the first High Priest, brother of Moses} found in the Bible, and after my grandfather Henry. We have a video clip from Aaron’s dedication service on the Bella Torah podcast.

This pregnancy was harder than the past two. I looked the same as I always do – a basketball shaped bump, except you could fit about five basketballs in my bump. The usual aches and pains just seemed worse this time around. Could have been because we had three children in four years, I guess! I’m hoping to give my body a little break now, and push myself to work out more consistently, to gain back some core strength.

Aaron Henry is 7 months now, starting on solids and close to crawling. He knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it! His older sisters adore him, and of course, so do I.

=)

announcing blueberry

Happy 2015! It’s a new year and {another} new phase for me… pregnant with #3, our highly-anticipated blueberry. My little boy is due at the end of June/beginning of July. I’m 21 weeks now and feeling great!

A few thoughts about this pregnancy:

[PRO] getting to set up a real “nursery,” finally!
[CON] everything I own is pink.

[PRO] a BOY!
[CON] the pressure of choosing the perfect name.

[PRO] already have pretty summer maternity clothes!
[CON] being a giant beach ball this June while my toddlers run circles around me.

[PRO] a huge incentive to potty train Sophia now!
[CON] the difficulty of potty training Sophia.

[PRO] my husband’s excitement to have a son!
[CON] labor… which I’ve said twice I’d never do again.

[PRO] everyone says it’s easier to go from 2 –> 3 children than from 1 –> 2!
[CON] 3 kids 3 and under {eek}.

[PRO] fulfilling the commandment of circumcision!
[CON] blazing a new trail, as usual.

 

Seriously though, we’re thrilled. And for the first time, I’m pregnant with one of my sisters! Christine is only a few weeks behind me. Based on how late Sophia and Zoe were {my womb is a super-happy place to be, apparently}, I actually think Christine will have her baby first… but who knows? This summer is going to be a beautiful adventure!

=)