an ordinary couple seeking an extraordinary life

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A Good Ol’Fashioned Barn Raising

It’s been 5 months since we became residents of Minneapolis, MN. When I think back on the last 7 months, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with the generosity of all of our family and friends as we made some really big changes in our lives.

It kind of reminds me of an ol’ fashioned barn raising.

From Wikipedia- “A barn raising describes a collective action of a community, in which a barn for one of the members is built or rebuilt collectively by members of the community. Barn raising was particularly common in 18th- and 19th-century rural North America. A barn was a necessary structure for any farmer, for example for storage of cereals and hay and keeping of animals. Yet a barn was also a large and costly structure, the assembly of which required more labor than a typical family could provide. Barn raising addressed the need by enlisting members of the community, unpaid, to assist in the building of their neighbors’ barns. Because each member was entitled to recruit others for help, the favor would eventually return to each participant.”

You guys helped us “raise our barn” by

…making meals

…sending us gifts for the baby that provided all of his needs

…helping us pack our whole house

..loading the moving truck

…keeping Paul awake while he drove all of our earthly belongings across the country

…unpacking our kitchen

…filling our new fridge with food

…giving us generous gifts of Starbucks cards to keep us caffeinated

…babysitting Caleb

And the list goes on. Thank you all for being our community. We REALLY couldn’t have done it without you. We love you!


Part of the crew that packed us up.

Sarah Napier Scholarship Fund

Sarah Teaching at DayBreak’s After School Program

It’s hard to believe that my friend Sarah passed away over two years ago now.  In memory of her, DayBreak has started a scholarship fund in her name to assist children and youth with private school tuition and higher education.  Sarah always had a passion for education and she worked tirelessly to improve our efforts in helping them learn to read. Even after she was too sick to work on site, she tried to work as much as she could from home to aid in serving these children both spiritually and academically.

So far, two families have received scholarships so that their children can attend a local christian school where they are now thriving. We look forward providing the means for  countless other kids to have the opportunity to get a better education and go to college.  Check out this link for more about Sarah’s story ,information on this scholarship fund, and to see the families who have benefited so far.

Caleb’s Birth Story- Part 1

It all started around 5am on Sunday, April 22nd. I (Julia) woke up to contractions that were painful and around 6-7 minutes apart.  About an hour later, I woke Paul up to say that I thought that this was it and that we should call our doula (Emma).  Knowing that she needed an hour to get to us and that the women in my family have a history of quick labor and deliveries, we thought it was prudent to get her involved ASAP. Little did we know, that I was going to break the family legacy!

Emma arrived and for the next few hours, she began to coach us through contractions, but within a couple of hours, it became clear that labor was stalling so she went home and we promised to call when things picked up again more consistently.

While I was still having contractions, we decided to keep ourselves busy:  we went to church, got take-out with Paul’s sisters (I was craving mac and cheese!), went for a walk around Pentagon City Mall, had dinner at Noodle and Co, played a game, and watched an episode of Friday Night Lights.  By the time we took the walk around the mall, my contractions were consistent and painful again and although I had to stop walking and concentrate during a contraction, I could still enjoy things in between so we waited to call Emma back.

Around 11pm that night, my contractions started getting stronger, longer and closer together so we called Emma again and asked her to come over. Throughout the night, I continued to labor with contractions that were anywhere from 5-7 minutes apart and 1 1/2-2 minutes long. My midwife wanted us to wait until contractions were consistently 3-4 minutes apart for at least an hour to come into the hospital, and we fully expected that we would be heading there shortly after the morning rush hour. 9 am came and went and I was still not having consistent contractions that were 3-4 minutes apart. Mind you, they were consistent, painful and long though, much longer than we had learned contractions would be at this stage in our Bradley book (a book about natural childbirth – we recommend it highly!) which left us a little puzzled as to why they were not closer together at this point.

Around 1pm on the 23rd (32 hours later), we called the midwife again and gave her an update.  We were hoping that she would give us some advice that would speed things up, but her main advice was to get some rest since I had been awake since 5 am the day before. This was frustrating because when I was active (eg. climbing steps or taking a walk), my contractions would get closer together. When I rested, they got further apart. I wanted to speed things up, not slow things down!  I tried to take her advice but my contractions were still so strong and long that it seemed to be a losing battle and by 3pm or so, I hit a wall. In tears I told Paul that I didn’t think I could continue doing things the way we had been here at home without knowing that everything was ok. I wanted to go in to get checked to see what progress I had made and to make sure that the baby was fine.  Our doula cautioned us that they would probably just send us home, but we decided to call the midwife anyways and after blubbering on the phone with her, she agreed to let us come in and see where we were at. Both our midwife and doula fully expected that we would be coming back home, so Emma hopped into the car with us instead of going in her own car. We parked in two hour parking, but both Paul and I walked into that hospital thinking, “There is no way that we are leaving here without a baby in our arms!”

They ushered me into triage and checked me, finding me 100% effaced, the baby at the 0 position, and 1 cm dilated. YES, only 1 cm dilated!  I wasn’t discouraged though because she said that my cervix was so thin that it could really pop open very quickly and with him in such a low position, it could go fairly quickly after that.  My options were to go home and try to rest (they could give me something to help me rest better), walk around the hospital for a couple of hours and then get checked again to see if there was progress, or do something artificially to speed things up. Although my midwife made mention of that last option, we all knew (including her) that that was not even on the table since we were passionate about having a natural birth.

I chose to walk around the labor and delivery floor for a couple of hours and Paul quickly dashed off a few texts and a Facebook status update asking everyone to pray for progress so that I didn’t have to go home. He was so concerned about how much stamina I would have left if this went on much longer, and we really didn’t want to have interventions purely because I didn’t have the strength to go on anymore. As soon as I started walking around, my contractions picked up. The doula and a nurse at the hospital also helped me by suggesting some techniques of lifting my ball of a belly and placing it more squarely on my pelvis and low deep breathing.

Around 6:30pm, Nora, my midwife, checked me again and the internal itself caused me to go from 1 to almost 5 cm dilated. They admitted me and my labor went to a whole new level of intensity. The midwife practice that I chose to go with, Wisdom Midwifery,  has been revolutionary in how it has impacted George Washington University Hospital’s practices, and because of them, I had a tub to labor and deliver in, telemetry monitoring (wireless) so that I could move around and not be contained to a bed while they were making sure that the baby was not under too much stress, and other great props to help me manage a natural delivery.  They started to fill the tub and I was whisked into the shower since water was my only source of comfort. Once the tub was full, they helped me in and while I hadn’t necessarily planned to deliver in it, there was no way I was getting out once I was in. The room was dim, worship music was playing, and I continued to breath low and steady through each one of the increasingly powerful contractions.  There were a few times where I almost lost control because of the pain, but Paul, my doula, midwife and the nurses were great at helping me maintain focus and composure through the worst of it.

Finally, around 9:30 pm or so, I was ready to push.  That stage of the process was one of the most amazing and crazy feelings ever. When a contraction hit, there was such a power rushing through my body that I created handles with the tub liner and held on for dear life while it felt like my body was going to be catapulted across the room.  There was no controlling of the pushing, my body did the work and I just had to help.  I pushed for about 1 hour and 20 minutes before our little baby emerged, hand over his face which was why I had felt little movements down very low during my labor. (He still loves to have his hands by his face!)

Once he emerged, Nora handed him to me and I then I quickly moved the umbilical cord out of the way to see if we had a little boy or girl.  I cried out, “It’s a boy!” Wow, we did it.

There’s more to the next part of the story, but I will share what happened next in the following post. As I reflect on my labor and delivery, I do not regret for one minute going the natural route. Although it was over 40 hours and there were times where I didn’t think I could go on, I never was tempted to take drugs. It was probably a good thing that I had been so natural birth militant while pregnant, and I didn’t want to lose face:).  In all reality, it was really hard, but it was so empowering to reach down into the depths of the strength God had given me to give birth.  Now I have a story that shows that it can be long and hard but possible to do it naturally. One of the major keys is to have a good team around you who has the same convictions. In other situations, I probably would have been encouraged to take Pitocin which would have most likely led to an epidural and maybe even a c-section because it was so long, but thanks to my team who would have intervened if medically necessary, they were patient and let my body do it’s work.  If you live in the DC area, I highly recommend Wisdom Midwifery if you are interested in giving birth naturally, but get connected early because they are super busy and have a long waiting list these days!

Welcome to the World, Caleb Luther!

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it has been six weeks since our sweet little boy entered the world, and what an entrance it was. That story deserves it’s own post so stay tuned, but in the meantime, let me introduce you to our son Caleb Luther Van Der Werf, born April 23rd at 11:07pm, weighing 7 lbs 10 oz.  It was such a special day for him to arrive too because it was my friend Sarah Napier’s birthday.  Sarah passed away 2 years ago at age 30 after a 5 year battle with breast cancer.  God had linked my life to hers in some very special and unique ways and once again, God gave us another special connection.

Here’s the skinny on the name:

Caleb – This was a name that we both liked. After we thought about it more, we loved that he was named after a spy in the Old Testament who scouted out the promise land and was known for his faith and courage. We think spies are cool, and we hope and pray that our son grows up to be a man of faith and courage.

Luther – No he is not named after Martin Luther or Martin Luther King.  His middle name came from one of the first missionaries from the US, Luther Rice.  As a college student in 1806, he was a part of the Haystack Prayer Meeting, and then in 1812 he sailed to India. Later, he returned to the US and founded George Washington University (known then as Columbian College) to be a training school for missions. Caleb was born at George Washington University Hospital so we thought it would be a great way to connect our passion for missions and DC into his name.

So much has happened in the last 6 weeks and hopefully over the next few posts, we will catch you up.  In the meantime, thank you for all of your prayers, well wishes, meals and visits.  We are so grateful for our family and friends, and we can’t wait for Caleb to get to know you all.

GoCorps is Growing…. Oh and Wall Art

Tonight, Paul and I were reflecting on the new growth that is taking place in our lives right now. Not only is baby VDW days (hopefully) away from coming into this world, but GoCorps is growing as well with three new full time staff and a new set of goers that are in the final stages of the interview/assessment phase.  By my due date, we hope to have 15-20, twenty somethings confirmed to join us in May at GO Week to be equipped to raise their support and head to some of the hardest places on our planet to bring the good news of the Gospel. We’ve got a lot of new people to be responsible for these days and we’re excited and humbled at the opportunity to steward these people well. We covet your prayers as we mobilize our new stateside staff and these goers.

On a side note, Paul fell into a sweet deal on a collectors item- a Fat Tire bike.  These bikes are given to Fat Tire employees, and somehow this one found it’s way to the east coast and onto Craig’s List. He couldn’t resist spending some of his hard saved fun money on this fun bike, and since it is too fun to put into a garage or storage area, we had to find a good place to prominently display it. Now our guests can admire this piece of art as they slumber in our guest room/office. Check out Paul’s other new baby:


14 Days and Counting….

14 days….the amount of days until the date that our little baby has been deemed due to arrive into this world. Of course we know that we could deliver today or we could be pregnant for another month (please, no!), but April 19th is the date we have been looking towards to get all of our “to do’s” done because of course, life ends when you have a baby:)

Recently we were looking back at all of our “baby bump” pics and laughed about how much we THOUGHT I was showing.  We thought we’d share.

OBX- 8 weeks

October 2011- 15 weeks

In Istanbul- 21 weeks

Our work and play trip to Tucson, AZ: 28 weeks

Sisters pregnant together! 31 weeks

Leap year photo that I entered into a contest and won for: 33 weeks

DC Cherry Blossoms- 36 weeks

New GoCorps Video

In our last newsletter, we referenced our new GoCorps video but we forgot to include a link to it.  Here it is… enjoy!


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