A Walk to the Hospital

Some people labor in vain, while others are just vain laborers. (quote by Sam)

It started during the morning staff meeting. Just as I reached for the tapitio sauce to spice up my egg burrito, a wave of intense pain rolled around my tailbone then wrapped all the way around to my swollen belly.

I frantically gripped the counter of the church kitchen and panted, “whoo whoo whoo, heee heee heee,” in the breathy way pregnant women are instructed to huff and puff. That is, until the pain gets bad enough for the real guttural groans of childbirth. This is why you don’t ever tell the labor and delivery nurses you are in ministry. That way if an F bomb escapes while you are bearing down to push they won’t stare at you like you’re a hypocrite.

Emily, the children’s pastor, looked at me quizzically. “Are you in labor? Do you want me to get your husband?”

“No, maybe, I don’t know,” I replied. The last thing I wanted was to be an inconvenience to the team or to my busy pastor husband. We were trying to get this new church up and running and I really didn’t have time to fit birthing in on this particular day.

Ironically, it was my actual due date, but baby number three seemed quite content to hang out in the nice warm womb for the full term. Labor wasn’t really on my radar because we had a scheduled induction the very next morning. Wrapping up all my loose ends was on the agenda for today. I had the meeting to attend, a few quotes to do for work, and kids to pick up from school.

Besides, I had it all planned out down to the hour. The two older children were scheduled to spend the night with my ex-in-laws and the renovation on our condo from unanticipated flood damage was to be completed that very night. And most importantly, the baby’s arrival was perfectly coordinated to not conflict with Sunday Service. Our fledgling church was every bit as much as our baby as was the actual child now dropping precariously low between my thighs.

As we moved the meeting into the study, I alternately paced and rolled around on the sofa while the church staff shook their heads at me in disbelief.

“You are so in labor.”

“Uh, Sam, it’s probably about time to head on over to the hospital.”

Defiant, I stared them down, determined to keep my schedule. I picked up the kids from school then headed back to church and to my favorite sofa. Around 4:00pm. A gush of water dampened my seat. I ran to the restroom to check if my water had broken. But when I stood up, it seemed to stop. Embarrassed and humiliated that I had more than likely wet my pants, I kept my mouth shut and continued to deal with the contractions which were growing more painful by the minute.

My husband walked in around dinner time and suggested we head out to find some grub. Now my husband, the soon to be father of the baby on the way, was not the baby-daddy to my two older children, Kyle (eleven) and Faith (eight). So though he was a great step-dad to the kids, he was rather clueless about childbirth.

Planting a church during the pregnancy had required almost all of his time and energy, leaving little room for Lamaze classes or birthing preparation. When the Doctor had told him a few weeks prior I was about ready to pop, he had protested adamantly.

“But, I’m not ready,” he said. “I’ve got two more weeks! I’m just getting used to you being pregnant.”

The doctor and I looked at each other in bemusement. But now, here I was the stubborn one, clinging to my agenda and in complete denial of actually being in labor.

The kids and I piled into my husband’s grey Ford Expedition and we headed over to the Panda Express in Ladera Ranch. It sits dead center in a strip mall of idyllic suburbia. I timed my contractions on the dashboard of the car. They were about four to five minutes apart now. I figured I could make it to three minutes apart before I cried “uncle.”

In we trooped to the restaurant and ordered up our usual favorite fare. But my insides were violently churning and the mushroom chicken I normally adored didn’t look too appetizing. My husband urged me to eat up. “You need to keep up your energy; we are having a baby in the morning. “He decried jubilantly.

I smiled back weakly.

“Oh by the way, “he said, “I need you to drive your car back to the condo, pick up the kids bags and then take the kids over to their grandparents. I have to wrap up some work at the church and then I’ll meet you there.

My eyes filled with tears. “I don’t know if I can do it, I’m really in a lot of pain.”

He smiled his charismatic smile, “Kyle will be with you. He’ll take care of you.”

Mumbling low-grade insults, I drove the thirty minute commute back to Newport Beach in waves of delirious pain. The contractions were holding steady now at four minutes apart. I whined and moaned the whole way home as my son both encouraged and laughed with me at the absurdity of driving in labor.

We walked in the front door to our condo and were greeted by the roar of fans. The construction crew was still on sight, even though it was now after 8:00pm. And all of a sudden, I got grumpy, real grumpy.

I glared at them menacingly. “Hey lady,” the guy in charge said, your husband told me we had to have this done before you brought your kid home from the hospital. We are just doing our job.”

I grabbed the bags, shot the workers a dirty look and headed to the car. We pulled up at my ex-husband’s parent’s home (Mimi and Papa to the kids), a few minutes later. Mimi ran out and invited us in with open arms. Finally, I had found a nice place to relax. I plopped down in their big comfy chair, curled up in a cozy blanket and then “whoosh” another big gush of water burst forth. This time I knew it wasn’t pee.

“My water broke!” I shouted. Just then my husband walked in the door and everyone got very excited. The kids were laughing, the cats were meowing, and the adrenaline was pumping. My husband’s eyes got very big. “It’s time! It’s time!” he said with joy and trepidation.

We kissed the kids goodbye, thanked the ex-in-laws and headed back to our condo where fortunately the workers had retired for the evening. I told Tim I wanted to take a quick shower before we headed over to the hospital. Honestly, I just wanted to look decent for the round of pictures that I knew would follow. So, I jumped in the shower, blow-dried my hair, carefully applied makeup, and even managed a few curls with the curling iron. The contractions were now about three minutes apart.

At some point, I finally got around to calling my doctor to tell them we were on the way to the hospital. When questioned about my contractions and time of water breaking, my doctor seemed a little miffed that I was not already at the hospital. She sounded a little angry in fact, “Let me get this straight, you have been having contractions for the last fourteen hours, your water broke six hours ago, and you are now just calling me? Get your butt over to the hospital.”

“Ok” I said. We practically live next door. We are on our way”

Tim walked in and said nonchalantly, “Remember that day we were walking around on Balboa Island and we passed the photo shop with the gorgeous pictures of the pregnant woman with her belly showing. You know I always wanted to take some pictures of you like that but we sort of ran out of time. Could we do a few now?”

“Now?” I asked incredulously.

“Just a few, it will take two minutes, max.” he promised.

With a loud “fine,” I walked out to the living room and dropped my meticulously packed bags by the front door. I had packed the special little tie-wrap t-shirts my older kids had worn in the hospital when they were born, the perfect going home outfit for baby, a brand new mini-pacifier, soothing music on the iPod, and my favorite pillow. All the essentials a girl could possibly need for the hospital stay.

Tim lined me up where he wanted to shoot me and then had the audacity to request I change into a black satin top which he thought would curve nicely around my giant belly.

Seriously…a costume change?

I am going to stab you...in the eye.

But I adore my husband enough to play along with his badly timed request. So in the throes of labor, contractions now about two minutes apart, I do an impromptu photo shoot for my hubby. As a former model (yes, I’m serious. It’s how I put myself through school), I pose and smile, in between contractions of course, and make love to the camera with my eyes.

I hate you...

I throw in some more under the breath cussing at my husband for making me do this in the first place. My personality is now teetering between curmudgeon and loving wife.

When Tim is satisfied that he has captured my pregnant essence we head out the door to walk to the hospital.

Yes, I said walk to the hospital. Our condo complex was just down the street from Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, so I figured we could save some money on parking and walk. I might have been hallucinating when I thought this was a good idea, but now fifteen hours into labor, I’m not really operating with a full deck of cards.

My husband pulls our travel bags with the rickety wheels across the cobblestone pathway as we make our way over to the hospital. Now reeling in pain, I stop several times and desperately hold on to the stone planter and screech in pain. Then we have two more minutes to walk as fast as I can trot.

Waddle, waddle, howl, waddle, waddle, yelp.

Finally, we arrive in labor and delivery. The nurses crowd around me and bark off directions but I refuse to let them push me in the wheelchair to my room. If I’ve made it this far, I’m not wussing out in the final stretch. I do let them convince me to take the epidural though. I’ve birthed one child drug-free and that was enough pain to last me a lifetime.

Epidural kicked in...I look sooooo out of it.

And so Kolby Grace Keller entered the world. She came out of the birth canal with a true knotted umbilical cord wrapped twice around her neck. The doctors believe Kolby tied her cord up around the fourth or fifth month in-utero. The knot completely blocked all blood flow and nutrients from reaching the baby. She should have died, but somehow the cord fused around the knot to give her just enough sustenance to live.

They said she was a miracle baby. The doctor was so amazed Kolby survived he had the nurse take multiple pictures of the mangled cord.


Call me Kolby the Survivor!


But it didn’t surprise Tim and I. Not that we deserve a miracle or take God’s grace lightly, but we do believe in a big God whose endless love allowed a little baby to survive against the odds. He is a God who can take the endless knots we tie and lives we so easily tangle and turn them into beautiful things.

Got a good baby story? Share it with me…

Goldilocks and the Three Outfits

It was the second day of school when my fair maiden Faith scurried down the stairs and into the kitchen. The baby was parked on my feet, double fisted with sippy cups of juice and milk, whining to watch Yo Gabba Gabba. I danced around her little body, trying not to step on her while packing lunches and making breakfast.

A blur of dark golden hair and an extensive length of thigh whizzed past me.  “Stop and turn around.” I demanded.

Faith looked at me like a deer in the headlights, feigning wide-eyed innocence. “What mom?”

“No way are you wearing that outfit.” I stated firmly. “Did you really think I would let you out of the house in that?”

Faith turned and looked sheepish, then flounced away in her skimpy, spaghetti strapped polka-dot sundress. As she turned to stomp up the stairs, I caught a glimpse of her pink panties.

(I could just see the mom’s at school gossiping, “Yep, that’s the pastor’s daughter, the one over there in the hootchie outfit.”)

‘But mom, its soooooo hot outside,” she whined from her room.

“You’ll be cold in that outfit” I shouted up to her.

A few minutes later, as I poured a (much needed) strong cup of coffee, in she traipsed again, now wearing her most prized and overpriced jeans with a grey cowl necked sweater. I put the cup down and looked at her in bemusement. “Faith, it was over a hundred degrees yesterday. Don’t you think you might be a little too hot?” I suggested.

She shook her head and looked in the mirror admiring her outfit. “I’ll be fine, mom.”

“Try again,” I said, shaking my head in exasperation.

She gave me thewhatever” look combined with a loud sigh and rolling of the eyes, then ran up the stairs once again.

Somewhere between little girl and all grown up...

As I heard her feet clomp down the stairs for the third time, I got a wee bit apprehensive. I could feel a headache coming on from all the drama and my son hadn’t even appeared yet with his rapper crap, (I mean the cool gear) he tries to pull off so nonchalantly.

But then Faith appeared and a wave of relief washed over me. She had on denim shorts (that actually covered her bum) and a pink diaphanous blouse that was a light cotton but still modest.

All of a sudden the Three Bears came to mind. It had been her favorite fairy tale as a munchkin.

“You look just right Goldilocks. Not too hot, not too cold, you are just right- sweetheart.”

And my fair maiden smiled and everything was the way it should be for at least five minutes (until my son came down wearing a sombrero the size of an inner-tube).

I really wish my kids wore uniforms.


Happy Mama

From somewhere deep within dreamland I hear the distinctive cry of my eighteen month old baby,” Maaaaaa Maaaaaa.”

I rouse and stumble to her room, pluck her out of the crib, and gently lay her down on the changing table for a fresh diaper. Slowly we make our way down the stairs to the fridge.

Kolby desperately cries and moans, “milka, milka, mama,” over and over.  I grab her sippy cup and pour the kiddie liquid gold.  She claps and squeals in delight. Then I put her on the counter and we grind the beans, and make fresh Starbucks coffee.

The house is quiet.  It’s a stillness so fragile, soon to be broken by the clambering steps of the older kids and daddy down the stairs.

With my treasured cup of coffee in hand, I hold Kolby close as we move to the sofa for morning snuggles.

I take my first sip…”Ahhhh” while Kolby slurps her sippy cup in delight.

I look at her and crack up at the absurdity of our morning addictions.  I need my coffee and Kolby craves her milka milka with a fierceness that border lines cranky. We are two peas in a pod, grasping our cups like they are a life force.

But today Kolby has a treat for me.

She places her chubby little hands on my face and cradles it. She looks deeply into my eyes and says, “Happy… Kolby happy mama.”

Did my tiny little girl just tell me how she felt? (I know right?  The kid is brilliant and reflective no less)

It took me about thirty years to be able to articulate my feelings and express them.  Quite frankly, I am still an emotional stuffer. And now here’s my verbal toddler teaching her mama to stop and smell the roses.

And then it hits me, our morning ritual is far more than milk and coffee, it’s a snapshot of our relationship.

A stolen moment of bliss between a mother and her child.

And we are content exactly where we are. 


Teen Snatching

We almost had to file a police report. Our jovial and loving pre-teen son seemed to have disappeared.  And to make matters worse, the perpetrator replaced my darling child with a defiant, sullen, and entitled kid with a decided mean streak. So, we called for backup and fell to our knees begging God for the return of our son.

I also pulled out Boundaries with Teens, by John Townsend and cracked the cover.  I bought it a while back, anticipating such a time as this and knowing I would need all the help I could get(I know, I know, there are moments where I seem a little less blonde).

As far as rules go, we try to keep it simple in our home.  There are three biggies we enforce religiously that best define our family’s values.  This is not in some pastor’s manual, it’s simply the Keller’s trying to figure out how to be parents and not screw up our kids.

The Rules are: respect, honesty and obedience.

If the kid is disrespectful, they lose a dollar out of their allowance.  If they are disobedient they get fifteen minutes of extra chores and if they lie, we take away dessert for two weeks or skinny jeans depending on the child.  So far, the baby has only had a time-out but we expect great things from her spunky and independent little spirit (translation: strong-willed child).

But Kyle was blowing through all the biggies in minutes. Something had to be done. So, for the first time we implemented the full grounding of said child.  No friends, no social engagements, no phone, no texting, no Mac, and no fun for a solid week with an option for two.  We also took away the teen dances he loves to attend, indefinitely, until his two B’s find their way back into the A range.  This is not because we are Tiger mom and dad, but because we know he is capable.

And something amazing happened…our son has returned home.  It took a few days, but he seems to have come around (at least for now), and I am happy to report the book works!  I am hoping(and praying) as Kyle re-enters society he will not turn into Mr. Nasty again, but I am more than willing to put him back on restriction again(less driving him around, more help around the house…the benefits could go on and on). I’m sure this is just the first of many battles and it scares the spit out of me if I dwell on it too long.

I think the biggest lesson from the book is that freedom is earned and respect is a non-negotiable.  To give our son boundaries is truly a gift for the both of us.  He enjoys newfound responsibility and we have an amiable son navigating the path to adulthood.

Tone matters. Demeanor matters. When I watch kids treat their parents like morons my heart aches.  I don’t believe it has to be this way. 

Most of all, seeing his smile again matters to me.  And at least for this week, I’ve got my boy back again.

The Torture Machine


My baby was diagnosed with RSV this week.  It’s a respiratory virus that causes infection of the lungs and breathing passages in young children. After discussing treatment and symptoms with me, the doctor forgot, possibly on purpose, to explain the potential side effects on the mother.  So, while I was adequately prepared for the baby’s illness, I was completely unprepared for my part in this journey.

As the home healthcare van pulled up to my house to deliver the torture machine, aka nebulizer, my insides started to quake.  We were instructed to administer breathing treatments every four hours for one to two weeks to baby.  The directions should have said, place gas mask on the child and brace yourself, because the baby will morph into a feral cat as soon as she sees the machine…a biting scratching little creature fighting for her life.

One week into this illness, I understood on a much deeper level, how God must feel when He watches His children suffer for their own good.  Our baby fears and despises the very treatment that will help heal her. Over and over, her screams rip into my heart as she stares at us with eyes full of distrust and betrayal.

My husband and I sound like broken records, repeating how very much we love her in our best soothing voice.  But it’s not enough. Our baby is mad and angry. She even howls at the machine, as if to rage against the symbol of her supposed injustice.

Of coarse, only a baby would doubt a loving father and mother’s intentions, right? I mean, we would never question our Heavenly Father, even when he leads us into the desert that borders the Promised Land…or would we cry and fight, every single time, just like a little child?

After eight nights of little to no sleep, fretting over each toss and turn, and straining to hear any variation to my beloved baby’s labored breathing, I have pretty much reached the end of my own strength. Her desert has become my desert, and the Promised Land but a memory I cling to in exhaustion. 

This desert has no sense of humor, limited grace, and very little patience for my spouse.  We bicker and pick at each other, ridiculously fighting over who is more tired (me, of course), until we remember who the real enemy is. And so last night, I prayed and cried out to God, to see Him more clearly in this dark night of the soul, on what has become a dry and barren road of nebulizers and endless mucous.

As I closed my eyes, long before my head hit the pillow; I sensed God’s comfort in this rest, more than the usual catatonic crash as of late. I felt drawn into His warmth, as though I were beckoned with waves of restorative manna for both my body and soul.  And though I awoke on the hour, it was enough sleep to sustain me for one more day. 

Today the baby actually relaxed in her treatment, closed her eyes and leaned into her wee mask. She opened her small mouth and deeply breathed in the medication that allows her find the air she so desperately seeks.

For this mother and child, God’s manna is rest. His provision is air to breathe. And his sustenance is not only for us, but for for all the weary sojourners traveling through the deserts of life seeking a glimpse of the Palace Gates and His everlasting  glory.

When I Grow Up…

Cover of "When I Grow Up"

Cover of When I Grow Up

“I don’t want to grow up, because baby if I did…I wouldn’t be a Toy’s R Us kid!”

My nine-year old daughter chimed in to the commercial jingle while shaking her hips with gusto.   I smiled at her in agreement.

“Being a kid is pretty great, isn’t it?”  I asked her.

“Yep mom and my favorite part is that I don’t have to go to work every day,” she replied.  “Some people hate their jobs.”

Her response took me by surprise. I could hear echo’s of her father’s voice complaining about his job through her little statement. My ex-husband hasn’t loved his on-again, off-again profession in about ten years.  It’s amazing how perceptive children are.

I quietly acknowledged the work comment and then suggested we focus on finding her a job she adores, so that work would be a blessing and not a curse.

“I want to be an actress mommy,” my daughter said. 

I nodded in approval, thrilled that she has moved on from professional cheerleader to actress. 

Mommy, what did you want to be when you were little?” my daughter inquired.

My eyes filled with tears as I thought about her innocent little question. 

“Well honey, I wanted to be a writer,” I said passionately. “I wanted to tell stories and entertain other people the way my books carried me through dark days.  I also wanted to read and get paid for it.  Read and write for a living… all day, every day, forever and ever!”

She gave me a quizzical look, slightly concerned at my over-dramatic response to her simple question. 

“Mommy, you are a writer.  You just took a long time to figure it out.”

Off she skipped, leaving me to process the ramifications of her statement. 

How is it that thirty-eight years slipped through my fingers before I finally pursued my childhood dream of writing?  I don’t remember saying as a child, “When I grow up I want to play it safe!  Minimize risk and avoid failure at all costs.”

And yet that’s exactly what I have done and what I see so many of my friends do.  We bury our dreams, escape into destructive coping mechanisms, and little by little lose the fiery spirit God gave us each one of us to uniquely live out loud. 

Isn’t this really the essence of a mid-life crisis?  We simply forget our identity and think hot sex or a Porsche will make the aching hole vanish.

So, when I grow up, hopefully before I turn 40 (I have about 18 months to go), I want to be bold like my daughter.  Reclaim my courageous spirit beaten down by years of life, and like a little child, have faith that with God all things are possible.  

Oh yeah…and I want to write, read books and tell stories, every day, forever and ever.



The big bad yellow bus…

Front of a yellow school bus.

Image via Wikipedia

In another initiative to over protect our kids and alleviate any modicum of self-reliance, a suburban Chicago school district has outfitted their students backpacks with a luggage tag size GPS that monitors when the student gets on and off the bus.  While I can appreciate the concern of parent’s for their child’s welfare, this whole concept of micro-chipping our pets and kids has an ominous big brother tone that is eerily playing out before our very eyes.  But more importantly, from a developmental perspective, navigating the bus, with all its relational drama and intensity, is a rite of passage for a child. This is where we learn to stand on our two feet, set good boundaries and survive in a world without mom and dad. It’s where both good and bad decisions are made, and kids actually learn from natural consequences.

 This takes me back to my own bus story as kid, a defining moment in the spectrum of childhood adventure. It also makes me wonder how many kids will we emotionally handicap by never letting them screw up, get lost and find their way back home.

The year was 1977; I was seven-year old 2nd grader, taking the big yellow school bus home for the first time.  Apprehensive all day, the momentous occasion had finally arrived.  There I stood, in my rainbow knee socks and straggly pig-tails, taking in what seemed like an endless row of busses.  My parents had told me to take the bus that went to South Huntington Beach but I could only see black numbers on the side of the yellow behemoths.  Starting to panic, I asked one of the drivers where they were going.  He looked down at me, scratched his scraggly chin, and said, “Honey this bus is going to Huntington Beach.”

Well…that seemed close enough, so I skipped on up the stairs, and settled down into a seat near one of my classmates that I recognized.  We drove off and I settled in to what seemed like an awfully long ride to South Huntington Beach.  After all the kids but one had gotten off the bus, it started to dawn on me that something was terribly wrong.  Timidly I approached the driver, “Sir, I thought you said we were going to Huntington Beach?”

The old driver cackled, “I just drove through the whole damn town.  You lost kid?”

“Yes sir,” I warbled, my eyes filling with tears.

“Well this bus is going back to the yard and I got plans. You gotta get off at the next stop cuz I don’t have time to deal with you.  Go with that other kid and call your mom.”

“Ok,” I said, more scared of the bus yard than being abandoned.  I envisioned a field of empty yellow buses with no mommies for miles.

I followed the sole little girl off the bus and asked her if I could call my mom from her house. She agreed and off we trotted to her home.  Her mother fussed over me like a hen, until my own mom arrived, distraught over the mishap.  I heard my mother telling the girl’s mom; “you would think a kid going to a gifted and talented magnet school could figure out how to take a bus.”

Embarrassed and yet exhilarated that I had survived a dangerous journey all by myself, I stood up a little taller and I didn’t hold my mom’s hand on the way out like I usually did.  Strangely enough, some lessons of self-reliance can only be learned by getting on the wrong bus.

The Face of Jihad

Children in Khorixas, Namibia

Image via Wikipedia

About ten years ago at a Christian rock concert, I was introduced to the humanitarian group called “World Vision” and felt compelled to be a part of their mission.  World Vision is dedicated to working with children, families and communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.  Basically, my involvement would be in the sponsorship of a child in need through monthly giving.  My children were very small at the time, but I envisioned picking a child that they could connect with and learn about giving and social awareness.  The little boy I chose had the same name as our family and “Adam” became a subtle reminder to us, all over the years, that in the smallest of ways we were all a part of the same global community of faith.  We received pictures from him and letters updating us on his growth and education.  We laughed when he sent us a picture of his new goat and my little ones drew him pictures of our family.  Ultimately, Adam became a goat herder and grew up and out of the program. But Adam had touched our lives in more ways than he would ever know. 

When I suddenly became a single mother, and struggled financially to provide for my children, I was challenged to believe that God would provide for not only us but Adam as well.  Sometimes I would look at my stack of bills and then at his picture and laugh.  He never knew how many times I almost gave up on him in my own desperation. I learned much about sacrificial giving through a little boy from Ethiopia and my children learned about staying the course and having a double fisted faith in God’s promise to take care our basic needs. 

Recently, World Vision sent us a picture and bio of a new child to replace Adam.  Ironically, once again we are being challenged by our World Vision child. My son, now twelve, and my daughter, now nine, were excited to open up the package and see who God had chosen for us.  My husband was now also part of our little group and as we tore into the envelope and read his name we were shocked to learn that he was called “Jihad.” 

Our first reaction was one of confusion.  World Vision is supposed to be a Christian organization and clearly this was a Muslim child as indicated by his papers.  This raised many questions in our home about what it meant to be the hands and feet of Christ, even in the face of our enemies.  This child may never know he has been named after one “striving in the way of Allah,” but his needs for food and clothing are probably all too real.  Tim and I considered asking for a different child, but finally decided to continue supporting him despite our conflicting feelings. 

While I don’t know if I am supporting a child that may someday fight against my own children or all that I believe in, I do want to be open to what God is doing in my life.  Jihad’s picture is penned up on my desk at work beside my children and husband.  He is slowly growing on me, though I do feel more of a sense of obedience than any natural affection. Once a month as I write out his check, I look at him and laugh and can only wonder what the Lord is doing in my heart through this boy.

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