Saturday, 19 April 2014

40 Days of Gratitude: Days 38-40


There are moments when I'm left breathless with gratitude, but the moment passes and I forget too easily that it happened. I need to write it down. I tell myself that often and yet I never seem to get around to opening that notebook of mine, even with fresh paper and new pens and more than enough time in my day for this one small-yet-big thing.

What better time than Lent to return to this practice of recording gratitude?

- 40 Days of Gratitude


_____________________

First there was the sound of a can of compressed air being used in the bathroom, followed soon after by the sound of my hair dryer. I walked down the hallway and turned the corner and there was the husband, blowing hot air at nothing at all.

I asked him, bewildered, what he was doing.

"Cleaning out the vents in your hair dryer. Much more lint in there and it was going to turn into a heat gun."

My first thought upon hearing this was, write it down. Write it down, add it to the list, don't forget this moment because this is a gift right here. To have him notice the little things that I would never consider, to be cared about in practical yet no less meaningful ways - it's a gift.

He put the hair dryer down and we all left for a Good Friday service at (yet another) new church. It's been a year now and we're as homeless as ever. We try and we give up and we try again and I'm tired of trying, I just want a pew to sink into every week, to worship and fellowship and is this so much to ask? This one small grace?

I always panic when we pull up to a new possibility. I look at my husband and he reads it in my eyes, and he's not feeling so sure either. We'd drive away if it was just us, I know we would, just two big introverted chickens we are. But the kids are waiting expectantly in the backseat, so we squeeze each other's hand and step over one more unfamiliar threshold.

This one, though...it felt good. Maybe. It's often hard to tell after that first visit (other times, though, one visit is more than enough to tell us what we need to know). We're not holding our breath but we'll be back there tomorrow for Easter Sunday and that's all we can do, go back until we know one way or another. But this Good Friday service? It, too, gets written down. Thank you.

This is what the past 40 days have done to me. Write it down, I think it time and time again as I go about my day. Notice. Remember. Write it down. Cultivate this spirit of gratitude. Find the grace in it all, the good stuff and the hard stuff, and write it down.

384. Preparing. Anticipation.

387. Silent doors, and a husband who makes them so.

388. Baby girl's word explosion.

390. My sewing machine.

396. Clarity. Learning from past assumptions.

398. Hot cross buns. Rosemary olive oil bread.

399. Fellowship.

And you? A moment of gratitude, something from your list, a link to your own gratitude journey? I love reading every bit that you share with us.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

40 Days of Gratitude: Days 32-37


There are moments when I'm left breathless with gratitude, but the moment passes and I forget too easily that it happened. I need to write it down. I tell myself that often and yet I never seem to get around to opening that notebook of mine, even with fresh paper and new pens and more than enough time in my day for this one small-yet-big thing.

What better time than Lent to return to this practice of recording gratitude?

- 40 Days of Gratitude


_____________________

It's Holy Week and I'm wholly stressed. A certain boy turns seven years old today and Easter is fast approaching and I've got an Easter dress to finish sewing for baby girl and the preschooler is having a challenging week and I must remind myself, always always, that he doesn't do this to me. He's the one having a hard time, and it's my responsibility and privilege to slow down and help him through it. Still, there are birthday presents to wrap and Easter bags to sew and plastic eggs to stuff, and I'm a bit tired already.

I can feel Good Friday approaching. Perhaps a portion of my busyness is to ward off the sense of mourning that accompanies the solemnity of the day. A quiet Saturday afterwards, and then, joyous day, He is Risen! But first, there's Good Friday.

But first, today, there is a delightful seven year old to celebrate. There will be a rainy walk through the nearby nature park, the excitement of long-desired gifts to be opened, and quinoa chocolate cake with blueberries for dessert.

Today will be a good day.

376. Perspective.

378. Going to a craft show with the boy. Getting to spend time with one child.

379. The husband taking over when I'm worn out. Having a partner in life.

382. My delightful seven-year-old boy and his excitement over his birthday.

383. Watching the preschooler and baby girl interact. Their bubbling laughter and sweet hugs.

And you? A moment of gratitude, something from your list, a link to your own gratitude journey? I love reading every bit that you share with us.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Weekend Reading {vol. 110}

When I Can't Do Enough @ A Deeper Family
I prayed. I let my heart hurt for the fallen world where little ones get sick, and so much worse happens, and begged for healing for all of us. I listened to her breathing, alert for any change, relieved that it seemed fine again.

This morning she woke up, full of beans and bouncing around. I asked if she knew I was holding her during the night. “No, but I could feel you loving me.”

Why Confessing Our Sin to Our Children is So Important @ SortaCrunchy
This confessional script creates space for these things:

1) It acknowledges why my action was sin, and it gives my children a vocabulary for confessing their own sin. It translates sin from some big, bad word we only talk about at church into an everyday part of conversation as a family.

2) Humility, humility, humility. It reinforces my humble need for Jesus in every moment of my life.

3) It empowers my children in the process of repairing our relationship.

When I Ask Myself, "Why Do I Still Go To Church?" @ A Deeper Church
Sometimes I ask myself why I still go to church, why my wife and I still wake up on a Sunday morning and wrangle our four kids and one-on-the-way into the car and drive thirty-five minutes. Why, instead of sleeping in or getting things done around the house, do I spend these Sunday mornings teaching elementary school age kids about God or sitting in a chair in a building where nothing seems to be happening? All around me people are just showing up, and I’m not sure why.

Why do I still go to church? I ask myself. Why don’t I cut loose from this obligation? What am I waiting for?

Something amazing, I guess.

What is a Family? @ Practicing Mammal
Blessed Pope John Paul is so much pithier, but here's a re write on "an intimate community of life and love."

"A family is people in close, warm, personal relationship all sharing a common good, primarily the love of God and a desire to bring one another to holiness and ultimately heaven. The family produces life, through the love of the parents and their union, and life through the love they pour out to each other; life meaning the joy of shared love. Their familial affection drives them to selflessness. Love the ACT. The selflessness is God made manifest in our daily lives. Close communities that practice selfless love, tenderness and, because of this, become a reflection of God."

That's what a family is.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

40 Days of Gratitude: Days 26-31


There are moments when I'm left breathless with gratitude, but the moment passes and I forget too easily that it happened. I need to write it down. I tell myself that often and yet I never seem to get around to opening that notebook of mine, even with fresh paper and new pens and more than enough time in my day for this one small-yet-big thing.

What better time than Lent to return to this practice of recording gratitude?

- 40 Days of Gratitude


_____________________

I woke up before dawn yesterday morning. The demands of a pregnancy bladder outweighed my desire to stay warm, but I was soon back under the covers. Of course, that's when my over-anxious brain decided to worry about All The Things. Two hours later, my husband was in the shower and I was still wide awake. I gave up.

In the kitchen, I put the cast iron pan on the burner. I was craving eggs, and I was willing to bet that man in the shower wouldn't say no to a nice warm breakfast either. I was right, and we enjoyed a lovely quiet breakfast together before he had to go.

Somehow all three children were still asleep, so after puttering around for a bit, I settled into my favourite chair with my favourite quilt and my favourite mug full of black tea. I opened my Bible to where I had last left off - Ezekiel 33 - and uncapped my pen.

Only 11 verses in, I discover yet another gift my childhood in the Anglican church has given me:

"As I live," says the Lord God, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?"

How very many times it has happened that words I have known since I was a little girl, words of hope and love and mercy woven into the prayers that we said together every week, should appear in the very Word of God Himself? How little I realized the amount of Scripture that was placed deep in my heart through this weekly liturgy! For that gift, of which I have yet to discover its extent, I am grateful.

356. Finding the perfect gift.

358. Baby girl dressing up as a knight.

359. Healing foods. Comfort foods.

364. The library's hold system.

365. A rainy day inside after a stretch of lovely sunny days.

373. A good ultrasound. Curled baby fists and kicking legs.

And you? A moment of gratitude, something from your list, a link to your own gratitude journey? I love reading every bit that you share with us.

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Season to Lament

Today I am pleased to have Nicole share some thoughts on her Lenten practice of "lament". I was intrigued by her choice and I am grateful she accepted my invitation to share her experience with us here.
_____________________


For the past few weeks, I have been focusing on “lament” as part of my observance of lent. It was a decision with a long build up - “lament” kept coming up in my life for the past few years through things I was learning in seminary, people I heard speak, and other random moments in my life. Laments in the Bible are protests, doubt, despair, and anger. Often they summon God to action, demand a response to the evil being faced. I started this journey of “journaling lament” thinking I would be lamenting the magnitude of sorrows and pains in the world that others face. Goodness knows the world has enough of them I thought I would spend these weeks lamenting lack of clean water, lack of education, the violence that faces women, children, and men on a daily basis. I thought I would delve into understanding corrupt prison systems and the way entire ethnic groups are oppressed because of their DNA. And I did that for a short time, but slowly, somewhat seamlessly, the laments became about me. About the fears and traumas rooted in my heart that impact the way I interact with the world.

I began to wonder if that is what these weeks were about for me. Not one more venture into strengthening my Christian Social Justice viewpoints. Not one more venture into finding out what else I can do to make sure I’m not oppressing people with my food choices or clothing choices. Maybe God brought me to these weeks of lament so that I could, finally, mourn the injustice in my own life. So that I could cry out to God with the honesty of the Psalmists and others in the Bible who demands to know an answer from a God who allows suffering and pain and heartache.

It is hard. It is hard to cry out in agony or anger on my own behalf. It is much easier to get angry and to rally on behalf of someone else; I don’t have to face my own pain and bitterness and brokenness or bruised spots on my heart if I am demanding justice for someone else. I can remain, to some degree, outside of the deepest anger and despair of those laments. I can remain somewhat objective, and in control. To rail against the heavens and to express the bitterness of my pain and my unfulfilled dreams is intimate and very scary.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying this is hard because I am some selfless saint. I am saying that various things in my life has taught me that my emotions create instability at best, and are dangerous at worst. And so my default mode is to tell myself to calm down, to think rationally, to look on the bright side, and - above all – to remain calm and in control. (This makes me an excellent person to have around in a crisis!) But there is nothing stable and calm about lament. There is nothing in “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that is designed to keep the status quo.

Shortly after I had this mini-revelation that I was supposed to lament my own pains, I shared as much with my community here. Later that night my friend told me, “I feel like you need to know that what you have to say to the world is important. That your story can help others, but that you have to be able to tell it from a place of peace. You have to be able to do it without bitterness.” She said that the thought had occurred to her days ago, but it wasn’t the right time to tell me until she had heard me share earlier that night.

There were a few days where I found myself inexplicably sad. I’d take the time to sit in silence or to go for a drive alone and try to identify the sadness. It was most often hopes deferred or the memory of injuries I’ve suffered at the hands of other people’s misdeeds. It was good to grieve those times. One afternoon, I ran across an old quotation that I had saved years before after a friend sent it to me: “And sometimes the God who can’t be found will wrap his arms around you. So, lay down sister, lay down.” That short line speaks the truth of lament to me – that when life demands that you acknowledge the weight of the pain, that God wraps arms around you.

In Psalm 126 the Israelites sing of how the farmer who goes out sowing seeds of sorrow will reap songs of joy. “Those who sow in tears shall reap shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (126: 5-6) The Israelites used their understanding of the real life hardships of watering the earth and waiting for a return to express their relationship with God. The tears of pain, anguish, longing, and hope are all vital to the process of reaping the harvest. In the end, the harvest is always a time for joy.

Many of my laments this season were about “hopes deferred.” For as long as I can remember, all I’ve really wanted to be in life is a mom. I often don’t feel free to speak up about how much of a disappointment it is that I’m 31 and childless – but the pain is real. And then when I start thinking about being single there is a deep-rooted shame inside of me – shame that I’m doing something wrong, that my body is wrong, that I am wrong. Most, if not all, of the men I’ve dated are married now – which makes my brain repeat, “So, see? It is you that’s not enough, or too much, or just wrong.” As much as I can logically identify these thoughts as lies, my heart needed this season to really lament the pain and loss that is wrapped up in these hopes deferred.

I am coming out of this season of lament with a renewed focus about my life. With a passion and a clarity to live into the person God created me to be, regardless of what I may have thought my future should like some months or years before. Part of who God created me to be is one who mothers, one who nurtures. In literally every place I have lived and worked in my adult life – people in my community around me have called me “motherly.” (Meaning it as praise almost always.) It is my deepest hope and prayer that someday that means that there are children who call me Mom and who find their stockings in my living room on Christmas and who think I make the best chocolate chip cookies around. I don’t know for sure that will happen, I feel like it will, but I don’t know for sure.

One result of this season of lament in my life is that I will stop apologizing for the things that make me, me. I will make those things the measuring stick for how I live my life. My question will be: will this move, job, home, etc. allow me to nurture those around me?

I know what my goal is and I have a passion for making that the priority in a way I never have before. I have a better understanding of which things are the hundred-and-four good ideas that might happen as the result of living into who I believe God made me to be. But those things aren’t the goals – those are the dreams. What I have for the first time in my life is a goal, a destination. The destination is not what I will do, but it is about who I am, who God made me to be.

This clarity about my future – about what it is I need to prioritize and focus on in my future – is my song of joy reaped from seeds of lamenting dashed dreams and broken hearts. I demanded an answer from God and then when I laid down he wrapped his arms around me and spoke with joy and delight about who He made me to be.
_____________________


Nicole is a full-time seminary student studying theology with an emphasis on public policy. She has a passion for making people feel welcome and believes that on some deep but monumental level, a shared cup of coffee goes a long way towards world peace. You can find more of her writing on her blog Mashena.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Eight months is a lot of months

The boy is approaching the end of his second official year of homeschooling. We enrolled in a home learners' distributed learning program for his kindergarten year, then stepped away from that and registered as independent homeschoolers for this 2013/14 year. Oh, the blessed relief! It has been truly perfect for us.

The preschooler, meanwhile, is learning right along with us. He sits beside us as we read our math stories. He has finished writing out the dwarves' song and moved onto other Hobbit lines during our dictation time together. We read all the same books and do all the same activities. It has been working well, and his eagerness and enthusiasm is encouraging.

Throughout it all, however, I think of him as being two years younger than the boy. The boy could do this two years ago; it should be about his level now. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't, but I've been finding myself feeling quietly frustrated at times. Why can't he do this? His brother could do it two years ago.

But he's not two years younger than his brother. He's two years and eight months younger - and, it turns out, eight months is a lot of months. His brother is about to turn seven while he's still quite newly four.

Eight months is a lot of months.

But there's an even bigger issue at play here. One of our primary reasons for homeschooling was to give our children the gift of an individualized education. They could run ahead with their passions. They could take the time they need to master their challenges. So even if those eight months didn't exist, I have no right to expect that one child should do what another child was able to do at that age. There's no one-size-fits-all requirement with homeschooling. And I know this - I know it, I share it, I'm passionate about it - and yet I forgot to practice it for a little while.

I've remembered now.

There are these lessons that I need to be reminded of over and over. Give it time. Don't rush. Don't try to do everything at once. Provide a learning rich environment and then trust that they will learn.

And perhaps most of all, relax.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

40 Days of Gratitude: Days 20-25


There are moments when I'm left breathless with gratitude, but the moment passes and I forget too easily that it happened. I need to write it down. I tell myself that often and yet I never seem to get around to opening that notebook of mine, even with fresh paper and new pens and more than enough time in my day for this one small-yet-big thing.

What better time than Lent to return to this practice of recording gratitude?

- 40 Days of Gratitude


_____________________

Some days, I confess, it all feels so pointless.

I rarely allow myself to think it. I know all the right responses. I know what I'd say to someone else. But some days I struggle to remember those same things myself.

I feel like I spend all day, every day, going from one mess to another. Get breakfast, clean breakfast, make lunch, clean lunch, prep supper, cook supper, clean supper, sweet the floors, do the laundry, run the dishwasher, tidy the living areas, tend to bumps and bruises and scrapes, intervene in the fights, change diapers, make the beds, wash the kids, on and on and on and on and do it all again tomorrow.

And all of it with a splitting headache, today at least.

Still, I press on. I wash the pots while the shepherd's pie cooks, hoping that my work now will give me a few extra moments of peace after dinner. We sit down to eat and the toddler drops her bowl onto the floor and I feel a flash of rage, as though she did this to me. On purpose. The bratty little tyrant, how dare she? Doesn't she know I don't have it in me to clean up one more thing tonight? I close my eyes on the mess and on my own ridiculous anger.

These are the days I need to remember gratitude more than ever. I'm home with these children, and it's just as I want it to be. We read and learn and create together, and it's just as I want it to be. Pushing back the dust and dirt and chaos time and time again reminds me daily of my own internal struggle with darkness, of the daily need for confession and repentance and worship, and it's just as I want it to be.

It's also exhausting.

It's okay to acknowledge that, I know. And it's important to recognize that point on the verge of overwhelm so that I can step back, look at our daily lives, make changes where needed, tend to my own needs so that I can continue to tend to the needs of others. That's when I feel the knot in the back of my neck start to loosen and things slowly begin to feel joyful again.

Throughout it all, though, I watch for the moments of gratitude.

334. Contentment.

335. Naps, mine and theirs. Quiet times.

338. Weeding and turning over the dark heavy garden soil. Earthworms. Dirt under my fingernails and an aching back testifying to hard work outside.

340. The boy's help and enthusiasm with weeding.

341. Fresh rosemary and basil.

342. Succulents.

344. Making things more beautiful.

349. Oven s'mores.

354. The hope and promise of burying seeds within the dark earth.

And you? A moment of gratitude, something from your list, a link to your own gratitude journey? I love reading every bit that you share with us.