ezekiel cruz valdez [birth story]

so much of this story begins the days leading up to it. i feel as if this birth was covered with so much goodness from the Lord, from start to finish. Of course all births are, but this one had a sweetness to it.

much of the last phase of my pregnancy was very comfortable. even as i hit 40 weeks i was full of energy, and incredibly peaceful. it was almost a peaceful oblivion. Though we didn't know the gender, somewhere in my 39th week the Lord woke me up in the night and spoke very clearly that I would have a son and to name him Ezekiel Cruz. Ricky had already been very passionate about this name, and also was very confident it was a boy. I needed God to speak it to me - and He did with such clarity.

throughout the days before i was having contractions (is it fair to call them that? maybe slightly cramps), though incredibly mild and only slightly uncomfortable. we walked every day - usually morning and night, and they would come and go with no consistency. sometimes i would have to stop to catch my breath, but for the most part i carried on as usual.

on saturday, i had hit 41 weeks. i had a couple signs of oncoming labor, but, as with everything in this birth, was holding it all very loosely. perhaps it would be tonight, perhaps not. we had spent the morning at Amos' baseball practice. My mother had flown in the night before, and decided to go to ikea in the evening to do some more walking. we walked around and the cramping picked up - but was incredibly mild.

by the time we got home i knew that if i continued to move around labor would pick up, but decided to try and rest and let my mom and Ricky rest too. i wanted the kids to go to bed and i wanted to see if i could get any sleep in. by this point i was pretty sure labor would come as soon as i woke up.

i went to sleep around 11 - having mild, mild contractions (cramping?) maybe every 15 minutes. maybe more outstretched. i didn't time them. i was in and out of sleep, awaking here and there for a contraction - and i would just imagine (as silly as this sounds) lucia stepping on my belly and me asking her to please move, it was uncomfortable for mommy and being patient as she took her time to move. I have no idea where this visualization came from - but it helped with the patience aspect and for me to view the discomfort as any normal daily discomfort.

around 3, i woke up and knew i was too restless to go back to sleep but not very comfortable taking on the contractions lying down. i got up to take a bath, which was a quick ordeal because i still felt too restless to sit there for any amount of time. everyone was still sleeping, and ricky had moved to the couch sometime throughout the night because he couldn't sleep well. he was too much on alert to go into any deep sleep.

around 3:30, or 3:45 i finally decided to walk down the hall to where ricky was and let him know they were picking up - i think i began vocalizing a little through the contractions and i timed them to see they were about 10 minutes apart. i asked him to call his parents to just be on guard (they were going to stay with the kids) but they were still too far apart to come, and i also called my midwife to let her know labor had started. i was talking in between, and at some point started hanging around ricky's neck swaying back and forth through each.

over the next 30 minutes i did some last minute stuff - threw some extra items into the bag, brushed my teeth, etc. i asked ricky to load the car for when we were ready to go. i basically followed him around so i would have him for the contraction. by 4:15, my contractions picked up pretty intensely and i told him he better call his parents to come and tell the midwife we needed to head over. they were 6 minutes apart, maybe, and painful - though seemed incredibly mild to me (and short) - though they were about a minute and a half long. my gauge is pitocin contractions, and these were so mild and manageable i was pretty unaware that i was probably in the most intense part of labor.

by 4:40 his parents pulled up and i ran down the steps, went through a contraction in the front yard, and leapt into the car. the ride is only around 12 minutes or so, and i cried a little in the beginning saying, "oh i really don't want to do this in the car" and felt a little weepy - i had 3 on top of each other, and started shaking - so i am pretty sure i transitioned during the commute.

as we turned our last corner i said pretty loudly, "i think i need to push!" and ricky parked right in front of the center. thankfully, my midwife was waiting out front and said, "i started filling the birth tub upstairs." i literally (NO JOKE) ran up the stairs, stood and had one contraction in the bathroom, ricky came up, i sat on the birth ball in between (thinking that would help), but as soon as I had another one, i stood up at the side of the birth tub and said, "i need to push." the bath was filling up, so i was waiting for permission to get in. i pushed a little during that contraction and then climbed in, sat down and had 3 more contractions. the first one the head came out, and 2 more and he was under the water.

i am so thankful my mom caught this moment. it was in between my only two contractions outside of the birthing tub.

they pulled the baby up and i cried asking what it was. i saw he was a boy, and it was a very matter of fact reaction in my head, "yes, of course it is." and i pulled him to my chest and started crying saying, "THAT WAS SO EASY!!!!"

a blurry moment. so grateful she caught this too. holding little ezekiel for the first time!

i laugh now, looking back. natural births are suppose to make us feel so strong and empowered. to be honest, my other births proved so much more strength to me. they were much more painful and took way more endurance - both physically and emotionally.

this one came and went with such grace. i had, what seemed to be, only 15 or so painful contractions. and even then the pain was about a 7 or so compared to the 10 of pitocin induced contractions. my body just did something - and i had little say in it. it was 2 hours from real start to finish. 2 minutes later, i would have pushed him out in the car. 2 days earlier my mom would have missed the entire event.

i truly believe this birth was God's testament to me of His grace. there is nothing i did in particular that earned me a quick birth. i strived less within this pregnancy and birth and it resulted in the most favorable outcome. it was a pure gift. i held the birth so loosely, set super low expectations, and was given a better birth than i could ever imagine. it was truly, truly a Father pouring out kindness. i believe it was ushered in by a community that prayed so fervently for me and stood by me asking for the birth i had always wanted. i didn't even have enough in me to fight for it, but there were those that encouraged me a long the way. my other two births i was fighting my body to do something it wasn't ready to do (labor) and this one it came and did it before i could even process it!

i have no wisdom about any of it - only that God is the God of childbirth. He, ultimately, brings forth life. i have had a baby brought into this world in an high stress hospitable environment, a peaceful hospital environment, and now a natural/birth center environment. God has been in each one. He has taught me something about who He was in each one. In the pain and confusion of the first, the frustration and His kindness in the second, and His pure, undeserved grace in the last.

the moments following were sweet. my dear friend kelly came and processed with me. i felt so loved and so calm. lucia and amos met him and i have never seen such joy on their faces at a new baby brother. i went home a couple hours later and we've been resting/bonding ever since.

ezekiel valdez cruz. 7 lbs 2 oz. 20.5 inches long. born at 5:04 AM on march 22, 2015

read about my first birth here: amos part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and lucia 


Christmas, Christmas - Oh what a glorious time!!!

i look down upon two tired hands, made of flesh and bone.
so small, and so worn.
have worked for my own gain, and washed bottomless basins
over and over...
tending to that which will not last.
building up fortresses to my own kingdom.
marred by rejecting the lowing of a Creator
clapping along to the worship of my own renown an praises.

yet in an instant, behold, the hands so spotted and matted with dirt,
are the same hands that can hold the God of the Universe
born in a humble room
swaddled in a feeding trough
21 inches or so, breathing in and out the very air He spoke into existence.

All Power and All Glory,
wrapped up in skin, that smells the same as my own.
given as the Greatest Gift,
which fits within my very arms,
His head cradled in my hands.

what Love, to come bound by time and growth,
just as we had been.
subjected to the assistance of His own creation,
to hold up His head and feed His hungered cries.

is this the King of the Ages?
not sitting high and aloft, distant,
but entering into the mess and the war of His people.
fully acquainted.

taking on the sin of humanity 24 hours at a time,
through infancy, toddlerhood all the way until He could fully sympathize.
fully know His kin.
(yes, He welcomed us into His family,
those who rejected the Kindest of all Rulers,
the Humblest of all Kings)
walking until He overcame death.

peering into a newborn's eyes,
knowing He would complete it all.
33 years of perfection. walking blameless.
his hands, growing to touch the infected,
heal the sick, and raise the very dead.

hands to wash the feet of those He called friends,
to carry His cross to a hill upon which they would be pierced -
pierced for the dirty, and the lost, and the sinful.

all GLORY ablaze within this small child.
all BEAUTY raging within a babe.

He is Worthy, to come and finish it once and for all.
hallelujah, Christ was born,
Christ died, and Christ rose again.
hallelujah, Christ shall come again.


Christmas Advent

I wanted to make a post about the Christmas Advent Calendar I created for our family last year. Even though it's already the first, it's never too late to start one. We started about 5-6 days late last year, and just did a couple a day until we caught up - and it is now my favorite part about Christmas. I start looking forward to it months before!

Most of the materials I have I bought the day after Christmas back in 2012 on clearance at either World Market (here are the clips) or Target (a lot of links for material ideas are at the bottom of the post). I then constructed the Advent out of the materials the following Christmas season. You don't have to use the tags, etc. - use whatever you have. You can cut out stars from paper bags, or squares out of construction paper.

Each morning Amos unties the next verse and we read it together. I read the original passage, and then paraphrase it for him and Lucia to fully understand. Then Lucia and Amos take turns opening the small envelope and we then have an activity for the day or a small gift!


The top two rows are an envelope for every day. I just took a rectangle cut out of a trader joe's back, stapled two sides shut and left a slit open. Inside I had cut out circles of construction paper that had either a Christmas Activity or an "Open A" - a letter that corresponded with a small gift.


The bottom row was tags left to right, that had the day of December as well as a verse or passage that was unveiling the story of Jesus' Birth! You can get a calendar to download here.

These are the presents from last year. I bought a lot of small stuff from World Market and kept them on the table.

This year I often had two small gifts for each child on a given day so they were put under the tree.  (Lucia insisted she posed with the presents.)

As I organize the gifts/activities I make a calendar of what is going on for the month, and when is the best time for certain crafts or activities. I leave a larger gift ($10) for Christmas Eve, and try to coincide free days with the more involved activities such as taking a photograph with Santa. I also like to remember what will be happening because once they are inside the envelopes I forget! There is also the corresponding letter of gift in the bottom right hand corner. The red texts are gifts to open and the green texts are activities to do! Here is a blank calendar you can print out and fill out!

This year's calendar looks like this:

Some of the activities we included this year are on the above calendar, but here they are for reference:

  • Make Christmas Cookies
  • Make a Birthday Card for Jesus (the real reason for the celebration!)
  • Shop for the gifts we give away annually to a refugee family within our community
  • Visit Santa and get a photograph (we aren't big on santa, but I still like to do this every year)
  • Give our presents to the refugee family at our church Christmas Experience 
  • Build a Christmas Fort and Watch a Christmas Movie in our Christmas Pajamas (opened on third)
  • Make Presents/Cards for dad, sibling, and other family members (opened markers that day)
  • Wrap Presents from previous day and do a Nativity Craft
  • Write a Letter and Draw a Picture for a missionary from out of our church
  • Pick one of our favorite toys to wrap and give to Jesus - we wrap it and lay it under the tree and then we will give it away (I tell the story of the 3 Magi bringing their gifts)  
  • Bake a Birthday cake for Jesus 
Some present ideas:
  • Dollar Bins from Target
  • Prepackaged Christmas crafts from Target/Craft Stores
  • Stickers, Tattoos, Puzzles
  • Christmas Socks
  • Christmas Pajamas
  • Christmas Ornament they hang out tree
  • Travel Activity if you will be traveling for Christmas 
  • Coloring Books
  • Christmas Candy 

Another tradition we have is to save all our Christmas Cards from previous years, and pick one out sometime throughout the day (usually dinner) and pray for that family and ask God if there is anything He is asking us to do to bless them (write them a letter, make them a small gift, pray for a prophetic encouragement, etc.). 

Hope you enjoy!!! Merry Christmas!

idea links for: string to hang here here and here /// clips to hang here /// tags for verses here here here here & here /// gift ideas here here here and here ///


Let's talk about Ferguson, and how we can improve.

I have been glued to the Ferguson situation since it's onset. It's miles from my hometown, and pulls a web of strings woven within me that I can't seem to untangle. Inter-racial relations, the current story of the black population within America, and what it means to eradicate racist thoughts and subconscious actions/language from my white, female, midwestern mouth.

It's heated. It's divisive. It's intrusive. Many want to shush the crowd - and tell them to settle down, deal with your internal issues first. It's full of a lot of imperfections - on all sides. Even so, it would be the failure of both the church, and the majority, to ignore the cries of its people. Because, yes, they are our people - as we are theirs.

John Piper, in his excellent book on the topic of racism in America Bloodlines says, "This deeply felt sense of race as a continuing, painful, and pervasive issue in America means that talking about race continues to be difficult. The feelings run very deep and very high. If your skin is thin... hold your tongue. But holding our tongues does not usually advance understanding, deepen respect, warm the affections, or motivate action."

To be honest, I feel entirely ill equipped, undereducated, and pretty far removed to speak on such things. It's risky, but I feel it's far riskier - long term - for the church, especially the white people of the church, to close our eyes and cover our ears as if nothing is happening. Of course, we must be grieved about the travesties in the Middle East, the injustices in Africa, but we should be careful to belittle or trivialize the voice of a group that has been discredited by so many for so long within our very own home.

I wanted to point on, specifically, where I see failure on the side of the white majority side. Let this be my kind, and gentle, confrontation.

1.) It has been quite a popular response to the black voice to "turn and deal with your own problems."
To have the mentality of us, vs them. I have heard many people point to crime rates, unemployment, and entitlements among black communities as a reason to enhance our stereotypes and further distance ourselves in our hearts towards people "not like us". I suppose that makes it easier for us to stomach the injustices of others and turn our heads to oppression like those towards the black communities. Having an "us vs them" heart response frees us from needing to probe deeper than stereotypical characteristics within communities.

For example, most people do not consider unfair legislation that disproportionately targets drug crimes most often perpetrated by people of color, thus contributing to prisons full of black and brown people. This, then leads to fathers being taken from their communities, leaving children fatherless, thus supporting a cycle of societal brokenness.

In addition, when these individuals are released back into their communities they lack skills and education needed to compete in todays workforce, and often times leaves them with little choice but to turn back to illegal activities just to survive.

These realities are hard and difficult to solve. But I believe one thing we could do to begin is acknowledge our own sin no matter how overt, or explicitly illegal and confess our need of a Savior.

Jesus said he who has been forgiven much, loves much.

What we must remember, that there is destruction and brokenness happening within all communities - of every socioeconomic facet and within every culture and race. We are all in need of a Savior.

Problems within the black community do not remove their right to a voice, nor their right to demand equality and a sense of honor.  We do not EARN a place to speak within our democracy by our successes, but it is an intrinsic right woven within us as Americans and, even more, as people created by God. Skin color does not make our opinion more or less important - nor where we feel mistreated more or less important.

Let them speak. Listen.

2.) It is a brutal police force that is the problem. It is a culture of crime that is the problem. It is a presumptive call for justice that is the problem. It is white oppression that is the problem. It is racial profiling that is the problem. It is a militarization of local enforcement that is the problem.

It seems everyone has stepped within a camp and has cast complete blame on the other side. Where I feel we go wrong is when we ignore the problems around us. There are problems, injustices, and things that are just plain "unfair" happening on all sides. Against policeman. Against politicians. Against the black community. Against the protestors of Ferguson.

To deny one to proclaim the defense of another is to remain partially blind. 

3.) "Racism is dead."

Piper says, "Since majority people don't think of themselves in terms of race, none of our dysfunctions is viewed as a racial dysfunction. When you are the majority ethnicity, nothing you do is ethnic. It's just the way it's done. When you are a minority, everything you do has color."

To say racism is dead is a pretty clear way of saying one does not know what racism is. To say it is a thing of the past, shows very clearly that one does not have their hands or their attentions within the minorities within our country. It means the life behind such words is not walking within low income neighborhoods, and even more, not talking to the people directly effected by racism. We are not asking our black brothers and sisters sitting within our churches, what can we do to make the change your hearts are longing for?

It is ignorance. Not by choice, I hope, but by distance. It is easy to avoid such realities. It is also easy to explain away certain legislations, and actions, as not racist but necessary. Necessary to preserve some type of "America" we believe we deserve.

I think, within every group of every skin color, we must turn and look at ourselves. Listen to what we speak. If you question if it is racist, ask yourselves, "Is this honoring to my black brothers? Does this shed blessing and a light of honor onto the black communities?" If you still wonder,  ask a person of another color. This is the best illuminator to a white culture that often has no idea what is or isn't offensive.

And even more, evaluate your heart. Are we "annoyed" by such "inconveniences" the Ferguson protests present. Do we choose to only focus on the negative aspects of the events - the looting, the accusation, the grouping - or can we see past hurt, and neglect, and truly hear what is being said.

Let's be honest and real. Let's repent of racism, even the tiniest of seeds within our hearts.

Ultimately, we are on a journey. As the church, the beautiful, multi-ethnic, rainbow of a people unified within the bloodline of Christ - we are being called to a deeper since of servanthood that steps into unfamiliar cultures and begins to truly listen. That looks at our politics and asks, "Is this the legislation that honors people?" That takes a stand, even if it feels awkward and vulnerable, against words and actions that do not love (truly love) the individuals within our minorities in our country.

It is presenting the gospel, the only thing that saves, to people - rather they are hurting with offense and neglect and oppression, or swelled with pride and self-sufficiency and idols of comfort.

It is making one significant change that will aid in racial harmony, and then making another, and another until we pass on a legacy of cultural honor to the next generation.

click here to read a previous post about hopes for racial harmony.


to remember.

sit still, with eyes tied shut. breath in a moment.
chaos before and behind. whirling and twirling.
but if only for a moment, we stop. we remember.
life is more than that which fills the waking hours.

think upon that which kneads the heart into true beating.
the unison of heaven meeting earth within micro moments.
peering with the eyes of the heart, upon a God who is Holy.

it's not difficult. it's not for the intellectual or the spiritual.
it's for those who believe.

see him there, operating in human frame in absolute purity and perfection.
never missing a beat. never acting for self.
power in complete and utter righteousness.
love that protects, and promises, and cleanses.

even the dirtiest of soul, the wickedest of thought, the most selfish intent
can be washed in Him.

there is hope for pain, and crippled minds, and broken bones.
there is hope for isolation, loneliness, and failure.

sit still and peer.

He does not slumber nor sleep.
He does not turn his back even on the most frustrating of persons.
He only offers Himself.

over and over
and over again.

with fierceness and determination and fire.

the blood is ever flowing.



there are moments along our journey in life where we are confronted with truly devastating things. we watch those close and far to us suffer. ones get sick. lives are cut short. people are slaves to sin. we see it on a large scale, in war and abuse. we see it on a smaller scale with our brothers and sisters among us. why is victory seem so unattainable for some? why the landscape of deep sorrow, unescaping pain?

we cannot avoid these realities. and if we only think for but a moment we find hurt among us. within our cities. within our churches. within our very families.

lives littered with abandonment. orphans never tasting love and acceptance. abuse. evil thoughts. pornography and human trafficking in abundance. racism. abusive legalism. deep rooted rejection. they are our neighbors. our church members. even at times, ourselves.

i think it's an interesting journey to hold this pain, this tension within our hearts. to not forget. nor grow numb. but to offer them up within ourselves to the God who redeems. Yes, He redeems to the uttermost.

to live in a way that offers what we can. to preach good news. to serve others and not our own agendas. to offer what we have to the sick and the dying - both in body and spirit.

to sing the song of the cross. over and over and over and over again. to believe that is works for the fallen brother, the prideful sister, the wandering sheep. to not give up on people. to understand mercy and forgiveness work wonders.

to believe He is working it all for our good. not only ourselves, but for humanity as a whole.

save us, Oh Lord.

“Though You Slay Me” (featuring John Piper) from Desiring God on Vimeo.


He is who He is who He is.

oh to the God who is forever open. arms outstretched.

as a little girl i remember thinking your feet touched down in front of the choir and you reached past the clouds. perhaps you held the sun. but you didn't burn. your hands were old and wise - wrinkles marked out like the countries of the earth. boundary lines within the creases around the eyes.

and then they said you lived within. my heart a little home, a hobbit hole for my miniature Jesus. setting the table, and speaking to my head through an olden horn phone.

you sang me songs and i became a grade school playwright and you were my audience. awake at night, eyes intoxicated by the spinning fan and the shadows that crept through the blinds. i wrote stories, and you always applauded. you'd whisper, "this is your best work as of yet."

soon you were my champion. my hiding place. a cove off the shore, with dry walls and sea shells.

you came out from within, and down from above. you stood among my comrades and whispered truth. "this is the way. walk in it."

the closer i came, your hands seemed less ethereal and more full of flesh. blood and bone underneath fingers that had seen labor. no longer bleeding, but still a home from which it poured forth. the river that offered perfection at no cost to me.

you roared. you swirled around me.
your jaw opened and from within you came the stars.
your eyes opened and i saw, truly, the beginning and the end.

pain was dwarfed in your presence. under your shadow emotion burst within.

we smelled the same. you and i. cut from the same cloth. yet within the tension of your being the world existed. within the tension of my frame was a clambering for more.

more of you. more of myself. myself understood as it was hidden within you.

my hair blew over my eyes in the tornado of your being. i peered through to a God who was bigger, braver, and much more sure than i ever could be.

and then you whispered, "i've only just begun."

and within me there is the deepest waters.

life is a sea of very simple things. my mind is often filled with the shallowest of tasks. practicality. efficiency. even my parenting is often like a very hot summer day, with sweet little moments of spiritual awareness, though only for a moment. a quick breeze blowing through. in these small pockets i feel deeply. my son shares a childlike strain of thoughts that blows open the caverns of my soul. my toddling daughter leans her little head deep in the warm indention between my shoulder and my collar bone. my husband finds a moment between dinner and dishes to make my frazzled mind erupt in laughter.

most of the time, MOST of it - i can only swim so deep within the waters of my self before my exhausted frame must come up for air. thoughts are very survival based. get groceries in enough time to get home to their naps to make an edit to wash my hair to paint a picture with the boy to be patient and remember to call my mom.

and so we don't know how much of us is slumbering, because frankly, we don't have the time to realize. it's as if we are running a race, and the scenery and the onlookers are like a roaring blur. we cannot take them in until we cross the final line, bending down deeply under the crush of our work, and then standing up tall with hands rested upon our head - breathing... really breathing we see. we see again. we see what we did, and who we've become... who we are becoming. we see what it was worth.

i'm eager to awaken. to see. to rise above the menial (though the glory it holds is great, this we must remember). to find the pieces of me covered with the web of urgencies that never have an end. because, is there EVER an end?

they don't tell you, do they? if they did, i don't remember. that somewhere in this madness you lose parts of yourself. like an animal shedding skin because it no longer fits.

old skin goes. and you grow.

and you wake up a new person. older. wiser. less self absorbed. more resilient. beautified by one year old kisses and the strength your three year old shows when he loves. you lose fresh eyes, and gain a perpetual tiredness that offers perspective.

even that which slumbers awakens with a pristine understanding of what matters. i mean what really matters.

i'm not sure when it slows down. when it lets up. when i can bend my body down to come up for air and spin around to see it all. to really see it.

is it in the restfulness of death. or the independence they'll one day put on - to open up the space.

and in both we mourn. and in both we celebrate. laying to rest the old me. that sits and feels and thinks and creates without limitation. celebrating the death of self, that never could die until i was given babies. and when the day comes, when i breathe again - i mourn children that no longer fit onto my hip or lie next to me in my bed and ask for stories and back scratches. and i celebrate that we did it. we made it through. and the journey busted open the deepest trenches within us, so we can feel, and create with depth that was never there before.