Wasted

If the most precious gift we have is time—

Why would we want to kill it?

-Ben Sasse-

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 I vividly remember getting ready for bed late one night years ago in Houston as Nathan pounded steadily away on his laptop, working on a dashboard he was creating in his “off hours” for Literacy Advance, the nonprofit whose board he had joined as a volunteer earlier that year. Finally, at my urging, he reluctantly powered down the laptop and called it a night.

“Why do people have to sleep?” he groaned as he flopped on the bed beside me. “It’s such a waste of time. We could accomplish so much more in life if we just stayed awake!”

I remember being amazed at his tenacity. After a long day of work I was more than ready to snuggle down in my cozy bed and surrender consciousness to blissful hours of sleep. But to Nathan, coming home from work was just the beginning of a long evening of tasks he was passionate about and couldn’t wait to start.

My conviction that Nathan was truly one of a kind in this regard has only grown in the years since he’s been gone. Our generation is increasingly obsessed with all manner of time-killers, particularly in the electronic form. Netflix binging, games, social media, and communication forms of all kinds steal our time in staggering amounts. A personal example is the book list I made at the beginning of 2018. I excitedly chose 12 books of different genres and posted a photo, vowing to read a book a month and write a book review so I didn’t promptly forget what I’d read. To my utter chagrin I finished a total of three books and only wrote reviews on two. To be fair, I listened to other books on Audible and read many chapter books with Elissa – but I am haunted by the nine books on my list that never even got cracked open last year. What stole the time that I should have devoted to reading and digesting those books?

If I am honest, it was the mindless rut that I fell into every evening after Elissa was in bed. Exhausted from a day of parenting struggles, homeschooling, traveling, home projects, and all manner of other things, I’d reason that I owed it to myself to relax, to chill – i.e. to veg on my phone while the evening slipped away from me. The inevitable result was that I never felt rested and invigorated by that time spent on my phone. Instead I was always shocked to realize what time it was. I felt robbed of those minutes that I’d had such high hopes for; they were stolen from me. They were wasted.

Our phones are addicting, and have been ingeniously engineered to meet our specific habits and preferences in such a tailor-made way that they become indispensable to living. The average American checks their phone every 4 minutes, and if you’re like me, “checking my phone” can quickly turn into chasing a rabbit trail that spirals out of control – clicking this link, reading that article, scrolling those photos – and before I know it 20 minutes have been lost forever.

If I’m going to break the hold that media has on me, I need to be smarter than my smartphone. I need to take a careful look at my electronic habits, anticipate the moments when I’m tired or stressed and most susceptible to distraction, and set myself up for success. This might mean keeping my phone in my bedroom, silencing my notifications so that I’m only alerted to phone calls (this was the original purpose of a phone anyhow, and if the need is urgent people can call!), designating 5-10 minutes each day to catch up on social media (because guaranteed, nothing has happened in a day that deserves more than 5-10 minutes of my time), and keeping books strategically around the house where I can pick them up and read a few pages instead of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.

As Ben Sasse so insightfully points out in The Vanishing American Adult, time has historically been our most valuable resource, and this generation is obsessed to an unprecedented degree with wasting it. Tellingly, we call the hugely popular pastime of binge drinking "getting wasted” because, not only are you good for nothing when you are blackout drunk, but the hangover the next day is time wasted and never recovered. Drinking isn’t just a waste of time – but of faculties, resources, and good judgment. It can and does result in the waste of lives. My husband – who lived each moment with incredible purpose and insatiable drive – was killed by a young woman almost lethally drunk. Not only did she waste her own life and leave her daughter an orphan, she stole the resources and potential of a new father with a family and unbelievably bright future ahead of him. It is tragic that these losses are commonplace. Our generation is in bondage to wasted lives and the terrible consequences that often result. Losing my husband at 26 has forced me to ask the question: what is more tragic? A short, full life lived to the hilt, or a long, empty life wiled away in meaningless past times?

Given my track record from last year, I’m a bit wary of setting concrete goals for myself this year. Instead, I am dedicated to creating habits that will breed lasting change. I’m sending them out into the cybersphere so that I have no excuse not to live up to them. Firstly, I vow to go to bed on time so that I can get up early in the mornings and write – something that I am deeply passionate about. Second, I vow to beat my smartphone at its own game by relegating it to another room and only engaging when it can be of some use to me. Third, I vow to fill my days with meaningful thought, work, play, and learning so that the downtime doesn’t encroach on my personal goals and development. I vow to be present for my daughter in her formative moments, leaving her a legacy of meaningful relationship – never that she had to compete with a beeping screen for my attention.

What are your goals for this year? Leave a comment below, and let’s be a community that spurs each other on in not wasting our lives.

The Most Generous Man in the World

I wrote a little story for my dad's birthday, and wanted to share it here so everyone can know how amazingly generous he is. Happy Birthday Dad, I love you!

Once upon a time there was a man with a wife and six children. They lived in a little house and were very happy. One day, the man decided to sell the little house and move to a big, beautiful house up the road. His children played games in the huge yard, slept in spacious bedrooms, and explored the comfortable neighborhood. They were even happier than they had been in the little house. The man worked very hard in the big house. He kept the lawn cut, the trees trimmed, and the pool sparkling. He threw massive parties for his children and their friends. Everyone loved the big house. Everyone loved the man's parties. 

But the man didn't stop there. He wanted his children to see the world, and so he would pile them into a big gray van that he had bought, brand new, and take them on spontaneous trips. They traveled up the coast to Canada. They traveled down the coast to Florida. The man bought his children things and memories. But that wasn't the most important thing. He gave them the gift of relationships, that couldn't be bought with money. He liked to have his children sit up front with him and talk. He spent time with each of the six children, listening to them, learning about their hopes and dreams. And when the man spoke to his children, it was with wisdom and understanding. He taught his children about God. He showed them how to love God and each other. The man raised six children who became best friends. 

When it was time for the man's oldest child, a daughter, to go to school, the man let her choose where she wanted to go. He took her to visit the school, and when she was accepted, he sat down and wrote a check for the first semester, and for each of the semesters after that. Sometimes the man ran into hard times financially. Often his children never even knew. He did everything he could to give them the best life possible. After the oldest daughter graduated from her expensive school, she planned an expensive wedding. And the man worked harder than ever before. He worked long, long hours all of the months before the wedding so that he could walk his daughter down the aisle in the setting of her dreams. 

Three years passed, and the man gave his second daughter a wedding just as exquisite as the first. He sent his third daughter to an expensive school. And he worked harder than ever to make it all possible, to make his children's dreams come true. At last, it seemed, life began to slow down for the man. The full nest began to empty as, one by one, his children set out to make their own way in the world. Then, terrible tragedy struck. The oldest daughter found herself alone in the world with her newborn baby girl. And the man once again made a home for her. He moved to the basement of his own house and gave his bedroom to his daughter. He found furniture and pretty things to make her smile. He bought her crepes and coffee and listened to her when she was confused. He loved her baby girl like his own. 

Every year brings the man closer to retirement age. Every year, the man works harder than ever. He brings his mother into his home. He drives to North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and Canada to visit his children. The man does not stop working. He does not stop praying. He does not stop loving. He does not stop giving. He is the most generous man in the whole world. 

The Birth of Elissa Rose

Dear Elissa,

Today you turned four months old! Time with you has flown by so fast, and I can hardly remember life without you in it. You are the sunshine of my days and the sweetness of my nights. We've had a lot of milestones over this past month: you love to push up first your front, then your backside and I know you will put them together and crawl before too long. You can sit by yourself as long as you have something to hold on to, and you love holding your own toys to taste and examine. You are such a little lady and always have your hands folded properly. You have strong little legs and can stand without support as long as you have someone to balance you. You are very conversational, especially first thing in the morning and just before bedtime. Even when you don't feel good you are the happiest baby! You love experimenting with new sounds and trying to copy me when I talk and sing to you. Your favorite song is "The Birdies' Ball" and you always break out in a huge smile when I sing it, even if you're sad. You love to look at and talk to pictures of your daddy, and can pick him out of a crowd - you grab pictures of him and kiss his face even if there are others in the picture!

It's hard to believe that you're already one-third of the way through your first year of life, and I can think of no better gift than to share the story of how you entered the world. God was so kind to send you to us a week before your due date. You got to have nearly four priceless weeks with your daddy,

and the first week he took off work and spent almost every minute with you. He came to your doctor's appointment, rocked you and sang to you, changed and dressed you and helped feed you. He called you his "little girl" and his "princess," and when you were too tiny to fit in the clothes we had for you he picked out the cutest little newborn things. He loved to take you on walks around the lake, to church and out to eat, showing you off to everyone. I hope you grow up knowing just how much he treasured you, how fiercely he loved you. He was willing to sit through seven natural birthing classes with me, and was the best coach and support during the 18-hour labor! A week before your daddy went to be with Jesus he helped me write the story of your birth. I've kept it just like we wrote it because it's one of the last pieces I have of him.

**Reader Advisory: This account is somewhat graphic in parts, and not for the faint of heart**

On Sunday, September 7, I went to church while Nate slept in to get ready for his night shift work which was starting that night. I came home with lots of energy and a long to-do list – we ironed and hung curtains, rearranged wall art, and organized the nursery. Nate left for work around 4 pm and I made a big pot of chicken soup, washed and folded a load of tiny baby clothes and crawled around on the floor taping down our entry rug. There was absolutely no sign of labor except for this mad nesting urge; looking back I’m so thankful I got those things done just in time! I went to bed early but had a hard time falling asleep without Nate. I woke up 2 hours later, shortly before midnight, feeling very strange. I had a tightness in my belly and really had to use the bathroom. I had never had contractions before but knew immediately what the tightening every 5 minutes was. I noticed that I was leaking fluid, so I texted Nate and my mom to let them know I was having contractions and might be in labor. My mom had somehow fallen asleep with her phone and called me right away. I didn’t really think I was in labor since I wasn’t due until the 14th, and I expected the early stage of labor to last a long time with me doing most of the work at home. I told Mom that I was contracting every 5 minutes and leaking fluid, and she said I should call the hospital. The on-call doctor told me to come in, which I wasn’t excited about but called Nate anyway. I couldn’t reach him since he was in meetings, so I texted his co-worker and started getting some things ready for the hospital. Soon the contractions were intense enough that I knew we needed to go, so I called the main console and asked the operator to please get Nate for me. He was really excited and went into Nate’s meeting with a huge grin on his face. Nate was in shock when the operator handed him the phone! His first night of turnaround and suddenly he was racing home in the middle of the night to get me to the hospital. By the time he got home my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and I had to stop what I was doing and focus on breathing through them. He started worrying that we wouldn’t make it to the hospital in time, so we threw everything in the car and got going. On the drive there my contractions were 2 minutes apart and lasting about a minute; at one point I almost threw up because of how intense they were.

We got to the hospital about 2:30 and Nate dropped me off and went to park the car. I somehow made it to the 11th floor with my suitcase and checked in while taking lots of breaks through contractions. The nurses got me to an exam room and admitted me when they saw I was already at 4-5 cm. I got excited thinking this wouldn’t take too long since I was already halfway there! I changed into a nightgown and they put in an IV port. Nate had to walk around and distract himself from the needle; he told me later this was the only point during the birth where he almost passed out :)

I got in a wheelchair and they took us to a labor and delivery room. I had requested nurses who specialized in natural birth, and my nurse showed me some positions to try. I got on all fours in the bed for awhile, then sat on a birthing ball. She gave me some chicken broth to drink, but I panicked during an especially strong contraction and hopped up from the ball, which made me immediately throw up. I was really scared that I would throw up all through labor, so I focused on my breathing and relaxing as much as possible through each contraction. I walked around the room for awhile and would stop and lean over the counter for each contraction, trying to surrender to the pain and work with it instead of tensing up and resisting what my body was trying to do. Nate was super quiet up to this point and I finally asked him to please talk me through the breathing/relaxing process and encourage me. He was so supportive, just hadn’t known at first if I wanted to be coached or left alone to work :)

He helped me get in the tub which helped for a little while but also slowed down labor, so soon I was back to walking laps around the room again. I walked countless circles around that room, which probably amounted to a few miles by the time it was all over! I lost track of time but noticed that the sun had come up and my nurses had changed shifts. The new nurse was optimistic that we would have a baby by lunch time, but when she checked me after 3 hours of active labor I was only at a 6. Three hours later I was barely a 7. There would be lots of really intense contractions, then they would stop almost completely and I’d fall asleep.

Mom had managed to change her flight in the middle of the night without paying any extra; our friend Eric picked her up at the airport and she got to the hospital around noon. I was lying in bed exhausted, hurting and discouraged because I’d been laboring hard since 2:30 am and was still only a 6-7. Mom immediately started comforting me and encouraging me along with Nate, and soon he took a 15-minute power nap since he’d been up all night. Mom read Scripture to me, prayed over me and encouraged me through each contraction. At this point I hadn’t eaten anything since some soup and bread around 3:30 pm the day before, and all I could have was sips of juice and water. I sucked on a few fruit snacks and somehow had enough energy to keep walking endless laps around the room.

I remember being really confused because the contractions were awful, but I could still smile and joke between them. I told my doctor a story about a friend who pushed so hard that her baby shot out all at once and the nurses barely caught him by one leg. When she left the contractions got much worse than they had ever been. I stayed on my feet and tried to sink down into each one; I would grab onto Nate and beg God to help me and Nate would breathe with me and remind me to relax through each contraction.

The nurse eventually checked me again (being checked was the worst because I’d be lying in bed helpless and she would check me with a contraction which was almost unbearable). She said I was a 9 but with a cervical lip – she tried to move it out of the way which was torturous but then said I still wasn’t ready to push quite yet. She recommended that I take Pitocin to make the contractions more effective, but I was adamant about no drugs and said I wanted to try for another half hour. She left and I think at that point I fell asleep – the contractions seemed to stall and I was so worn out and felt like this baby was never coming. The nurse came back half an hour later and was shocked that I’d been napping at a 9! She got the doctor, who strongly advised me to take Pitocin since the baby had been in the birth canal all day and my body wasn’t effectively getting her out. I finally agreed and they started me on a level 2, the lowest possible dose. I continued my laps around the room, pushing the IV cart and leaning on it for support with each contraction.

45 minutes later nothing was happening, so they increased the dose to 4. The contractions really started to get more intense then, but still weren’t as bad as the ones I’d had before the Pitocin, which confused me. I kept asking the nurse what an urge to push would feel like, but she just said I would know when I had to push. As soon as she left the room I felt that urge, just once, and my mom raced out to get the nurse. I sat on the bed ready to be checked again, and suddenly felt intense pressure down there. I knew the baby’s head was right at the opening! Nate had gone to get something to drink and was shocked when he came back and I was ready to push.

The room suddenly filled with people; a bright light came down from the ceiling and my doctor appeared at the foot of the bed asking me what position I’d like to push in; she recommended lying on my side. Nate and Mom each held one leg and I started pushing for all I was worth. Everyone was so encouraging with every push, but soon I got incredibly tired of hearing that her head was coming out and going back in every time! Pushing was by far the worst part of labor for me; even though I only had to push for about an hour I was completely drained and just prayed that God’s strength would take over because I had none left. The contractions were much more sporadic at this point, but I would try to push 4-5 times with each one. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever done – almost 3 weeks later I still have a burst blood vessel in one eye!

Finally I gave the hardest push yet and Nate, Mom and the doctor said she was coming out! As she crowned I had the worst “ring of fire” burning sensation and it was all I could do to listen when my doctor said to push slowly to get the rest of her out. It literally felt like I was ripping in half, but a split second later I heard a hearty wail and our wet, wriggling daughter was placed on my stomach for the first time. I’d been prepared for a grey, wrinkled alien-like baby but she was red and alert and absolutely perfect. I couldn’t get a good look at her right away because I had to be stitched up and cleaned and massaged, but Nate stayed right with her and raved about how beautiful she was. She was so awake and ready to meet us; she stared at Nate and held his finger and latched on the minute she was placed on my chest to nurse. She knew exactly what to do! We had been debating on what to name her from the day we found out we were having a girl, but when we met her we knew her name was Elissa Rose – Elissa means “promised of God” and that is exactly what she was, coming so soon after we had lost our first baby, Hope, which means “a confident expectation of good.” Rose is after my sister Christene, who was nicknamed Rose when she was little. Nate and I were both exhausted and running on no sleep and very little food, but we couldn’t stop staring at our sweet Elissa and marveling at how beautiful she was.

Elissa was born at 6:30 pm on Monday, September 8, weighed 7 lbs 1 oz, was 19 ¾ inches long and had an Apgar score of 9. We spent a couple days in the hospital where I worked with lactation consultants and nurses to learn all about caring for a newborn. She passed all her tests with flying colors and I healed remarkably well with no side effects, even though we learned after she was born that she had been “sunny side up” the whole labor and delivery, which no one knew till she came out! I did some research and learned that face-up babies often result in a much longer, often stalled labor and Pitocin is usually needed to stimulate stronger contractions. The c-section rate is much higher, and severe tearing during delivery is normal. I’m so thankful that I was able to have as much of a natural birth as I did, even with this complication. After Elissa was born my first thought was “I never want to do that again,” but since she was a first baby and sunny-side up I have good reason to hope that subsequent births will be easier :)

I won’t lie and say that an epidural wasn’t far from my mind the whole labor, knowing that I could just say the word and the pain would go away – but I am so glad that I didn’t give in! Nate and I had rehearsed what to do in the event that I begged for an epidural (he was supposed to pep talk me about how I was in the worst of it and it would all be over soon), but thankfully neither of us even mentioned it the whole 18 ½ hours of active labor. 

In the end I can’t take any credit for the whole labor and delivery experience; my own strength was maxed out long before Elissa made her appearance and I know without a doubt that God carried me through the worst of it. We had Jared’s worship playlist on repeat for most of the labor, which gave me so much peace. Mom and Nate read Scripture to me, prayed for me and encouraged me when I felt like I couldn’t go on. They gave me invaluable physical, emotional and spiritual support; I know I never could have made it on my own. Our families and friends were praying for me and checking in for updates the entire time. My nurse, who was on shift for most of that day’s labor, was so kind and agreed with us many times in prayer. After the delivery she gave me a big hug and kiss and asked where we went to church; God was so kind to give me a fellow believer as support! My doctor stayed late to personally deliver me and was so consistent to check in all day and cheer for me; I’d had to switch doctors later in pregnancy and she was definitely an answer to prayer.

Elissa is now almost 3 weeks old; Mom left on Friday the 26th and the transition has been harder than I thought, but thankfully we’ve gotten the hang of breastfeeding, she is gaining weight well and learning to sleep at night – she’ll usually give me 6-7 hours of good sleep which is amazing! Nate is working night shift for turnaround and only gets to see me and Elissa for a couple hours each day, but she adores her daddy and loves to look deep in his eyes while he talks to her – she also saves her special poop explosions for when he’s changing her diaper :)

We are head over heels for our princess and so thankful to God for this amazing gift of a daughter!