Monday, 30 April 2012

Attachment Parenting: Dealing with criticism

Today in our Attachment Parenting Series, we will be discussing how to deal with criticism as an Attachment Parent. If you have written a post on this topic, please do share it with us in the comments below!


Introduction

Once a parent has made the choice to raise their children in an Attachment Parenting manner, they often find themselves the target of a great deal of criticism and anti-attachment advice. Family, friends, and acquaintances are often vocal in sharing their concerns with an attachment-oriented approach to parenting. This criticism can shake a parent's confidence and leave them wondering if such warnings and advice are valid.

It can be challenging to choose a different path than that of the predominant parenting culture. Fortunately, there are steps the AP parent can take to both reduce the amount of criticism received and reinforce their own convictions on the matter.

Responding to criticism

Project confidence

People are far less likely to jump in and offer advice or criticism if you look like you know exactly what you are doing. There is no need to seek approval, permission, or validation when it comes to your parenting choices. Simply carry on with what needs to be done. Hungry baby? Feed him in whatever manner you choose. Tantruming toddler? Pick her up and find a quiet private place where you can help her regain her composure. No big deal. Just do what needs to be done, and do it with unapologetic confidence. Keep in mind that proceeding calmly is reassuring for the child as well.

Recognize their motives

Most people who offer warnings, advice, and criticism truly have the target parent's best interests at heart. They sincerely believe what they are saying and authentically want to help. Being aware of these positive motives can take some of the sting out of their words and make it easier for the parent to calmly proceed.

Acknowledge and disengage

With those positive motives in mind, acknowledge the shared advice without feeling the need to engage. In other words, don't try to change the world; change the subject instead. You are not obligated to enter into a discussion simply because someone shares their advice, criticism, or warnings.

"Thanks for the advice, I'll keep that in mind!" followed by a change in topic often works to end an unhelpful conversation. Humor can be useful here as well: "Oh, you know how those recommendations are always changing!" You may choose to discuss the reasons behind your parenting choices with other parents who sincerely want to hear what you have to say (even if they ultimately disagree); you may also choose not to engage in a fruitless discussion with someone whose sole motivation is to convince you to change your mind. Smile, nod, and change the subject.

Similarly, "he's sleeping well!" is a perfectly acceptable answer when a more detailed answer ("he wakes up every three hours to nurse, as expected for his age") will only invite criticism. Be aware of who you are entering into such a conversation with. It is wise to share your parenting challenges only with those who you know are supportive of an attachment parenting/gentle discipline lifestyle. Just as you wouldn't discuss homeschooling challenges with someone who was vocally against homeschooling, don't discuss parenting challenges with those who are vocally critical of an attachment approach to parenting. Don't invite criticism.

This doesn't mean you have to pretend everything is perfect. A simple "we've had our challenges, but we're handling them" can be more than sufficient. This form of discretion is simply a wise boundary, not a fake projection of perfection. Use your best judgement to determine when entering into a dialogue with someone will resolve itself peacefully or only create more conflict.

Enforce boundaries

Unfortunately, there are those who will persist in the conversation despite attempts to politely disengage. For those who can't leave the topic alone, enforce strong boundaries. "I will not discuss this further." Repeat until they accept that the topic is not open to further discussion. Leave if possible/necessary.

Turn the conversation around

Shift the focus off of you and back to them. This allows them to offer their experiences in a non-confrontational manner. "Interesting! What was it like for you when your baby weaned?"

Lead by example

Actions speak louder than words. Rather than engaging in a discussion, step back and let time demonstrate the fruit of this style of parenting. In the meantime, the same gentle parenting techniques can be used on those who persist in offering criticism: listen to their words, reflect their feelings, acknowledge their underlying motives, and firmly yet gently enforce your boundaries.

Share your reasons and resources

Of course, you may always choose to enter into the discussion rather than politely disengage. When doing so, there are three techniques that can help to make the experience a positive one for both parties:

  • Empathize: "It sounds to me that your concern is _____. It means a lot to me that you care so much about your niece."
  • Educate: "Current recommendations state..." or "If you are interested, I would be happy to share with you some resources that we found helpful when making our decision."
  • Express enthusiasm: "I'm really excited that our nursing relationship has continued this long. It's been a wonderful bonding opportunity for both of us, and it has been an excellent tool in helping us through these turbulent toddler years!"

Strengthening resolve

In addition to knowing how to respond to criticism, it is helpful for the AP parent to have an AP-oriented support network in place as well as an understanding of why they have chosen this path. Both knowledge and support will help to prevent discouragement from taking root.

Build support networks

It can be discouraging to spend time with other parents who are vocally critical of an overall AP approach to child rearing. It can also be difficult to maintain a positive outlook and attachment-oriented focus after spending time with those who parent in a punitive and authoritarian manner. As such, it is helpful for the AP parent to also find supportive families that affirm an AP lifestyle.

While no two families are likely to agree on the details of every parenting matter, connecting with those overall supportive families can leave an AP parent feeling refreshed and re-energized. A supportive network can also provide the parent with additional tools and relevant brainstorming when challenges arise.

For some, that community may be found in person. Attachment Parenting playgroups or La Leche League meetings are good starting places to find these connections. For others, however, depending on the community they live in, that group may exist mainly online during some seasons of their life. While face-to-face support is generally preferable, a solid online AP support network can be an excellent source of resources and encouragement either in addition to or temporarily in place of that in-person community.

Reinforce beliefs through research

Knowledge is another source of affirmation and encouragement. When you are confident that healthy attachment will lead to healthy independence, it matters less when others warn that independence must be forced from the beginning. Scientific resources routinely reaffirm an attachment-oriented approach to child rearing. Spend time reading this research in order to bolster the underlying reasons for your parenting choices.

The more knowledge and tools a parent has, the better equipped they will be to handle challenges and criticism, the more confident they will feel in their choices, and the easier they will be able to say "this is what we do" instead of "that is what we don't do". In addition, solid science-based information is useful to have on hand when choosing to enter into a parenting discussion.

Recognize the roots of criticism

Anti-attachment warnings are often both rooted in fear and create fear. Such admonitions may include warnings against responding to a baby's criesbed-sharing, full-term nursinggentle discipline, and more:

  • "Just leave him to cry. He needs to learn he's not the center of the world."
  • "If you let her into your bed now, you'll never get her out."
  • "He needs to learn to be independent, or he'll be living in your basement when he's thirty."
  • "That 'gentle discipline' stuff will create a monster who always expects to get her way."
  • "If he's old enough to ask for it, he's too old to have it. You'll turn him into a pervert if you keep nursing him."

Recognizing these as fear-based statements can reaffirm the AP parent's stance. Fear-based parenting is restrictive, reactive, and ultimately not rooted in reality. Because fear focuses on control and prevention, it actually restricts a healthy, age-appropriate independence as the child grows. Conversely, Attachment Parenting focuses on healthy attachment, mutually-trusting relationships, and responding to the needs of the individual child. The security and reassurance provided allows the child to grow into an emotionally security, empathetic, confident, and independent individual.

Give it time

You will see the fruit of your choices in time. As your children grow, it becomes easier to let the comments roll off, and the comments become fewer as others see the results as well. Your own experiences will begin to demonstrate the lack of truth in the earlier anti-attachment warnings and criticism. You can also look to those who have teenagers and adult children raised in an Attachment Parenting manner and see the positive outcomes there as well.

When warnings are valid

We have been focusing on criticism and anti-attachment advice that stems solely from an overarching disagreement with Attachment Parenting or gentle discipline in general. It is always wise, however, to consider when a specific warning may be valid.

While AP affirms balance and being aware of the individual child's needs, there can be times when a parent becomes so focused on the specifics that they miss the bigger picture. An overemphasis on breastfeeding, for example, can be to the detriment of the infant who authentically needs supplementation in order to prevent failure to thrive. Other parents, as their child grows, may confuse AP/GD with permissiveness. In such cases, concerned family and friends may see, for example, an infant displaying signs of failure to thrive or a preschooler seeking the safety of boundaries and offer valid warnings to the parent.

As with all else, use your best judgement to determine whether the warning has basis in reality or is simply a fear-based reaction against AP/GD in general. The following questions may be helpful in making this judgement:

  • "Is my child healthy and thriving?"
  • "Is my child generally happy?"
  • "Is there a concern I have been ignoring because I don't want to or don't know how to handle it?"
  • "Has my child entered a new stage where an adjustment is needed to a particular aspect of my parenting?"

You know your child best. If none of these questions are a concern, the warning is mostly likely a general warning against AP/GD rather than a valid warning about your child's health, development, or safety.

Summary

The parent who chooses an Attachment Parenting method of child-rearing is often the target of much criticism, warnings, and anti-attachment advice. While such criticism may initially shake a parent's confidence, there are steps the parent can take both to respond in a positive manner and to strengthen their own resolve on the subject.

To reduce the likelihood of receiving unwanted advice, project confidence while unapologetically doing what needs to be done. Lead by example; in the meantime, be discerning when it comes to discussing parenting challenges. When criticism or advice is offered, there is no obligation to enter into the discussion. To avoid engaging, acknowledge the advice and change the subject or shift the focus back to the other party by asking them about their experiences. Gently but firmly enforce boundaries when polite attempts to disengage are ignored. When choosing to enter into a parenting discussion, empathize, educate, and express contentment with the choices you have made.

To strengthen resolve, build a supportive network of like-minded families. While it is preferential to have this support in-person, online support networks can be an excellent supplement or temporary replacement. Support networks are sources of information, encouragement, and relevant brainstorming when challenges arise. Knowledge is another source of affirmation and encouragement for the AP parent, allowing them to better handle criticism, tackle parenting challenges, and share science-based information. Finally, recognizing the fear-based roots of criticism and how that differs from Attachment Parenting can further strengthen the parent's resolve.

While most of the warnings and criticism received will stem from a misunderstanding of and disagreement with Attachment Parenting, it is wise for the parent to be aware of times when the warnings offered may be valid. This requires both a willingness to acknowledge areas of weakness and a thorough understanding of the child in question.

Ultimately, time and experience will demonstrate the lack of truth in anti-attachment warnings. In the meantime, maintain positive responses, strengthen foundational knowledge, and continue to build strong networks of supportive families.


Recommended Reading:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Responding to Criticism
Handling Criticism about Breastfeeding
Handling Attachment Parenting Criticism


Recommended Support Resources:

La Leche League Groups (Facebook page)
Natural Parents Network (Facebook page)
Gentle Christian Mothers Community (Facebook page)
Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond (Facebook page and Reader Advice)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Weekend Reading: Series Edition


Speaking of series, the next installment of our Attachment Parenting series will be posted on Monday, on the topic of dealing with criticism. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I'll take it

I feel like I am finally - finally - caught up after our time away. Things are cleaned and dusted and organized and yes, it will only last for a short time but right now it is good.

Sometimes the day's work can feel so fruitless. What do I have to show when most of it will need to be redone tomorrow? It is never ending but it is an offering in itself, my offering, and what more is needed?

If only it were simple to remember that. But then come days like today, with poop on the floor and on the freshly-bathed toddler and on the other toddler and really, four baths in one day when I only had three kids? Really? Cleaning tracked poop from three different rooms? Really? And it wouldn't be so bad if only I could say I was calm about it, handled it like an adult, but I'm too damn tired for this and I threw a fit of my own because really??

But then later I remember, one day I won't be cleaning poop off the floor. I won't be picking up toys only to have them strewn all over the floor a few minutes later. I won't be wiping trays and noses and bottoms, and the floor will stay clean for more than five minutes at a time.

And I'll miss them. I'll miss the wild abandon with which these children approach life. I'll miss the beauty they point out to me in all the places I'd never see it on my own. I'll miss the sloppy kisses, the toddler fingers tangled in my hair, the crazy "one day" stories of an imaginative boy. I won't miss the poop on the floor but I'll miss these years even as they are replaced with new stages in our life.

So I'll take it. I'll take giving four baths in one day if it means I get to hold a little one's hand as he falls asleep. I'll take scrubbing poop out of the carpet if it means I get to hear "Mommy, I love you" countless times a day. I'll take the sticky kitchen floor if it means I get sticky little hands on my belly wanting to feel the baby kick. I'll take the mess that regenerates as fast as I clean it up, because this season is beautiful in it's own way even when I'm too tired and grumpy to see it.

I'll take it all and I'll embrace it, because I'll sure miss it when it's gone.

Monday, 23 April 2012

God in the glorious mountains

I've always felt safest in the mountains.



Mountain-born, prairie-raised, I spent many summers staring out the window as we drove back through the mountains to visit grandparents. The prairies were lovely, but it was the mountains that truly captivated me. As soon as I could see the foothills off in the distance, I knew I'd be safe soon. The mountains' protective walls would rise around me; I would imagine myself nestled in their folds, hidden and comforted and perfectly safe.



And yet there was a terrifying thrill about driving through the mountains, too. Rock face on one side, cliff on the other, sign in front reminding me that any second now, a huge chunk of rock could tumble down the mountain and flatten our car beneath it. My young imagination would always take off as I considered this. Would any of us survive if a giant piece of mountain fell on our car? Would we swerve to avoid the rock and crash over the cliff instead? Would it hurt?



Safety and danger. Somehow the two feelings never seemed to be in opposition to me. They were both there as we drove through, the mountain walls both comforting and terrifying as they rose around us.



I've always felt closest to God in the mountains.



The mountains seem to be the perfect reflection of a Holy God: I rest in His comforting protection and it never feels in opposition to the incredible power that He wields. He is at once safe and dangerous - or perhaps more accurately stated, "Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you." "He's wild, you know. Not a tame lion." (Thank you, Mr. Lewis, for always writing it down so perfectly.)



Wild but good. I can trust that.



Driving through the mountains, each one is magnificent. I turn a corner and another one rises up in front of me, bigger and more beautiful than the last. Just when I think it can't get any better, I turn another corner and there it is, proving me wrong, leaving me undone with its untamed beauty. And each so different, too. Soft, jagged, tall, slanted, covered, bare, and then the sun hits one just right and how do you breathe through such beauty?



So has been my journey with God. Just when I've wrapped my mind around one facet of His glorious Self, a new one rises up in front of me and I am breathless. Could it be true? Could He be this Good? Could such Love be mine? God is the mountains, never ending, never changing and yet always new because He is far too big to fit neatly into my understanding. I turn a corner and there He is again and it's never what I expected.



But maybe if I grew up in the mountains, each one would become like an old friend, each rock face, each crevice, each valley and peak and everything else intimately know, nothing new to discover. The same each day, no surprise waiting around the corner.



Then? I guess that's when you head out to the vastness of the life-rich prairies...



or the wonder of the Badlands...



or the endless ocean...



because God's glory is everywhere, never changing and yet always new.


Photo credits: Author. All photos (except last) from our recent trip back home.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Habit replacement

This being my year of presence and habit, the two ideas are rarely far from my thoughts. Am I being fully present in this moment? Is this a habit I want to allow to develop in my life? This steady self-evaluation shapes my days and interactions as I continue my journey towards a more intentional life.

In the bigger picture, I hold these concepts up against our family life as well, seeking that same habitual presence on this more general level. It is a constant refrain in my parenting, too. Children, being children, seem to have a beautifully inspiring ability to always be fully present in whatever they are doing. Habits, on the other hand, have a tendency to require more intentional guidance and cultivation.

These two concepts came to an interesting head recently in our household. Our oldest has, like other children, that delightful ability to be entirely consumed in whatever he is doing at the moment. It was becoming more difficult, however, to briefly gain his attention in order to speak with him (to alert him to an upcoming transition, to make a request, and so on).

Because he would frequently not respond to my statements or requests, I, assuming he hadn't heard me, would repeat myself. Annoyed, he would tell me he had heard me the first time and why was I telling him again? Equally annoyed, I would (quite shamefully) snap at him about responding to me if that was the case. We had both fallen into a bad pattern and it needed to be changed.

Recognizing a problem, I sought a solution. After sitting down to discuss both the problem and potential solutions with him, I gently began working on a new habit: respond when someone speaks to you.

The habit is as simple and straightforward as that. It is not the content of the response that concerns me, but rather the acknowledgement that something was said in the first place. He knows that he is welcome to let me know that he is in the middle of something and will do as I've asked when he is finished; he is always free to negotiate; he may even choose to make the wrong decision and learn from that in the safety of a loving family and during this time when the stakes are still low.

Sometimes my request is both urgent and important, but when possible, we work together to find a mutually-agreeable solution in that manner. It would be both disrespectful and boundary-less of me to insist that he always jump the moment I say something, just as it would be so for anyone else to expect me to instantly drop what I am doing and carry out their every request.

This habit has been a good reminder for myself, as well. Sometimes, introvert that I am, I get overwhelmed by the constant questions, requests, and "Mommy, look at this!" that come my way all day. When that happens, there are times when I simply stop responding. Of course, being kids, this doesn't stop them - they just ask again. And again. And again. Ignoring someone is no more respectful when it comes from me than it is when it comes from them. It has been good for both of us to work on this habit together.

Finding this mutually-respectful solution has restored the sense of peace and togetherness that had been temporarily disrupted in our home. If he forgets to respond, he needs only a gentle reminder. If I fail to respond, he prompts me in a similar manner.

This, I believe, is the core of gentle discipline. Walk alongside your child with kindness and respect. Recognize a problem and together seek a solution, not a punishment. Peace and maturity will follow in time.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Charmers

Snake charmers, that is. 

Reptile World
Drumheller, AB

Monday, 16 April 2012

Five

Five feels big.


Five means half a decade of You, darling, here in our lives, our always-present one and I'm so glad.

Five means kindergarten. It means a wealth of activities that were previously "five and up", because "five and up" now includes you. Five is adventure and courage and everything that was wonderful about four, only bigger.



Five feels big.

Five means memories. Maybe you'll remember four or three or two, but five is almost a guarantee. What will you remember?

Five seems so wise. You talk and ask and wonder and create and every bit of you is pure magic.


Five means you asked for an ice cream cake this year, in lieu of the usual son-chosen-mama-made cake. I only sniffled a little bit.



Five means you built your own Lego fire truck today, instead of searching for pieces while Daddy built it. He only sniffled a little bit.



But five is little, too. You still curl up on my lap while I read you stories. You are happiest when I hold your hand as you drift off to sleep. You still turn to me first for comfort; I am unfailingly humbled by your certainty that I can make everything okay again. You still love the colour pink best because, oh thank you, no one has yet been cruel enough to mock or belittle you for it. You are so little and so big and so perfectly you.

I know you're only one day older today than you were yesterday, but wow. Five.

Five feels big.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Simple joys

This has been a week where all those simple joys seem impossible to miss. I blame the sunshine and warmth; can anything make life seem more cheerful than sunshine after too much rain? So we drag lawn chairs outside and I sit while they run, all of us soaking up that sunshiny happiness together. My list of thanksgiving grows even faster these days:

  • Shrugging off the to-do list and following the kids outside for some fresh morning air.

  • Dirty bare feet and dew-soaked pajamas.


  • Another encouraging prenatal appointment, hearing that beautiful heartbeat.

  • Precious baby kicks.

  • Windows flung wide open.

  • Fresh flowers on the table.


  • That glorious spring air.

  • A fresh stack of books from the library.

  • Father and sons elbow-deep in the water, making damns and canals and following up with a boat race.

  • Boys playing in the dirt.


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Responding to God's Father-Love

As I continue to explore the idea of my love for my children being a (woefully imperfect) reflection of God's own Father-love, I find myself being more aware of not only the various facets of my love for my children, but their own responsive love towards me. This Lent was, for me, a beautiful season of considering the ways in which God loves me as a Father. During this Easter season, as the church remembers Christ's post-Resurrection time on earth and awaits the celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost, it is this responsive child-like love that I will be inwardly reflecting on.

My children love me without reservation, even on my worst days. They rely on me wholly, trusting me completely. They love nothing more than to spend time with me - reading, talking, playing, snuggling. They just want to be near me. Always the pendulum, swinging away in their independence and swinging back for connection. Their desire and love is so effortless, so natural, and so complete.

I am reminded of words I have written before:
The baby cries. I open the door to go to him and he reaches for me with everything, every part of his body straining, as only a baby can, to the source of his comfort and nourishment. I lay beside and he rolls into me, snuggles against me, rooting for food and reassurance. As I nurse and cuddle him peacefully back to sleep, I wonder, when did I last reach with such full-bodied purpose to the one true source of comfort and sustanance? Yearning, straining, reaching, as an infant for its mother, wanting nothing more and nothing less than the safety and provision of the Father? Provider, Sustainer, Giver of Life!

So it should be with me. And yet I discover, once again, that I long for a more intimate sense of God's love with one part of me while continuing to hold Him at arm's length with another. Why do I do this?

I love God as fully as I can at this point in my journey, even while knowing that the same only leads me continually to deeper love as I travel farther along the path. I trust Him, knowing that He is Good even when I don't understand. And yet I know there remains a missing piece. I love Him, yes, but I lack that child-like consuming reliance on and desire to be near the Source of all that is good. I go about my daily work, but I fail to continually return, reconnect, and refocus. I trust Him as the Provider of our every need (are we not of more value than the birds and the flowers?), but I live and worry and work as though it all depends on my efforts and comes from my own hands. I love Him, but with an intellectual love.

We love because He first loved us; even while we were still sinners, He loved us. Our love for Him and others is rooted in, comes from, and is sustained by His own love for us. I cannot love others in the way He desires me to unless and until I have embraced His love for me and responded with my own heart-mind-soul love for Him.

Surrender. This is the word that comes to mind as I reflect on this. What would it mean to wholly surrender to my Heavenly Father? What am I holding on to that is preventing me from doing so? I don't have answers yet, only questions to wrestle with and pray through during the weeks to come.

Thank you, Lord, that you are continuing this work you have begun in me, and will be faithful to complete it in the end.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Body and blood, broken and risen!

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.


Matthew 26: 17-35

We know that Peter went on to do just as Jesus said he would, publicly denying him three times. The story of the Last Supper is set amidst Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, and the disciple's misunderstandings and ultimate desertion. The disciples don't understand what Jesus must do; they thought they must have had it all wrong on that day when Jesus died on the cross.

Today, we too get distracted by the little things, missing the bigger picture just as the disciples did. In his devotion "Lent for Everyone", N. T. Wright shares the following observations:

"Some of the sharpest, most bitter arguments the church has ever had have been about the meaning of the meal which Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died, and of the similar meals his friends have shared ever since...

Perhaps, whenever something truly and massively important is afoot, it becomes the place where attack is concentrated, where Jesus' friends will be distracted by so many immediate muddles and concerns that they risk missing the glorious thing that stands quietly in the centre, the gleaming diamond in the middle of the rubbish-heap.

And diamond it is — with many facets, reflecting light all around. This Passover meal was the way Jesus chose to explain to his followers what his death was all about. They hadn't understood what he'd said to them up to this point, but this meal, and their repeating of it thereafter, would soak it deep down into their imaginations. Jesus wanted them, and us, to know that his death was the true Passover, the time when God acted to rescue his people from slavery once and for all, and that we are not merely spectators but participants and beneficiaries. When we come to the table, we are shaped and formed, together and individually, as Passover-people, as rescued-from-slavery people, as dying-with-Jesus people.

For a community to be formed and shaped in that way is perhaps the most powerful thing that can happen to a group of people. Again, that's why it's so easy to distort it, to allow squabbles and muddles and even betrayals and denials to creep in and spoil it. Sometimes the church has made its sharing of this meal into such a wonderful work of art that everyone is thinking about how clever the art is rather than about how awesome Jesus is. Other Christians have over-reacted to this, and come to the meal, when they have to, almost casually or flippantly, like someone whisking through an art gallery with a cheerful comment about the pretty paintings. We all need, constantly, to find our way back into the heart and meaning of this meal."

With such a variety of methods and understandings of the Holy Eucharist, maybe none of us have this meal quite right. Maybe we should expect it to be so, just as it was with the disciples, blind and deaf people that we can be. But maybe it doesn't matter to Jesus quite as much as we think it does whether we stand or kneel, drink grape juice or wine, pass the elements around or accept them from the hands of a priest or retrieve them ourselves, believe them to be merely symbolic or otherwise, just so long as we truly and sincerely are doing this in memory of Him.

Remember Jesus, friends. Eat the bread, body broken on our behalf. Drink the wine, blood shed for us. A sacrifice not to satisfy wrathful blood-lust, but to lovingly rescue us from slavery to sin and death. If our sins make us less human, less whole, less ourselves, then it is this freedom gained that allows us to begin the journey towards wholeness, a work which He has assured us He will be faithful to complete. We will one day truly be as He created us to be.

But if all we celebrate in this meal was a broken body and spilled blood, then it would be no celebration at all. His death on the cross was only the beginning. It is this day, Easter, when we remember His Resurrection, that we ultimately celebrate: we celebrate His victory over death! He is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Weekend Reading: Holy Saturday

Splints for the Soul @ The EO
"Move on now and love people, ya big beautiful mess."

The Women Wait @ Rachel Held Evans
"They had no idea how, without the help of men, they could ever move away that heavy stone. But as soon as the blue light of dawn seeped through the windows in the morning, the women rose and, in an act of radical friendship and faith, went to the tomb anyway..."

Words for the Waiting @ The Incorrigible Gingers
"Hindsight is beautiful. It allows us the privilege of upcoming celebration, unimaginable to the disciples that dark Sabbath. Joy comes in the morning, but it means little when we don't know how long the night will be. This Saturday, the middle day, is given sparse attention compared to Good Friday and Better Easter. Yet, 2000 years later, it is a glorious day; a reminder that the wait isn't in vain. The outcome does not depend on my knowing, my hoping, my striving."

Holy Saturday

Today I wait.

I think of body broken and blood shed for me. I think of myself in the story: Am I with the women waiting by the tomb? among the disciples who have deserted, certain they must have been wrong? among those who jeered and mocked in the crowd? I decide I am with each of them, all of them, sometimes faithful and sometimes faithless, sometimes embracing and sometimes doubtful.

But mostly I wait. I wait because today it is His death I think about, but unlike the disciples so long ago, I can't erase the knowledge that this death is only the beginning, not the end. Tomorrow He will rise again in victory over sin and death! His death would be empty and meaningless if not for this most glorious day, the day we remember Christ's Resurrection. I try to focus on today but the excitement and anticipation is building too quickly; I am eager for tomorrow's joy.

In the meantime, I wait. But what do we do while we wait? This waiting isn't limited to Good Friday and Holy Saturday. No, we wait every day, wait for the day when Heaven and Earth will finally be one, when God's new creation will find wholeness and completeness as He intends it to. God's Kingdom fully come, here on earth...but for now we wait.

This wait is longer. Some days it, too, is filled with eager anticipation. Other times, we get distracted. We lose heart. We become apathetic. Some days we are the foolish and unprepared virgins. Other days we bury our talents in the ground. Too often we become the wicked servants. Our hope fails.

Do not lose heart, sisters and brothers. This wait may be long, but we must continue to do what our Risen Savior has asked of us: love God and love one other, serving faithfully in this in-between time.

Serve in love and faithfulness. It is all that is asked of us, but what a mess we make of it!

This idea of waiting is what I find myself thinking of on this Holy Saturday: waiting for tomorrow and waiting for the coming again of our Lord and Savior, the day when the birthing pains will be over. What am I doing during this wait? How am I loving? serving? Am I staying alert and prepared?

We are not merely passing fruitless time here in the waiting. There is much to be done.

Lord, may my time of waiting not be empty.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Going Home

Going home to visit family brings up such a strange mix of feelings. One part nostalgia, one part panic, I'm not sure which wins out as I drive through the familiar-yet-strange town.

More than two thousand kilometers separate our home from the home I grew up in. I felt every single one of those kilometers during the three-day-two-night drive, just me with two kids in the backseat and a third nestled in my womb.

I think I needed those kilometers once upon a time. I left home and began the unexpected process of discovering who I am, of learning to make decisions for myself, of realizing that I truly am a whole and capable person in my own right. It was good and necessary and empowering.

But now the distance seems too long. I don't miss the town, oh never, but I miss my family. My parents, my children's grandparents. Those four baby sisters of mine, each of them growing up too fast. How is it that one of them is a mother now? That another has just received her driver's learning permit? That a third has become this outspoken young teenager, witty and fun and relatable? That the youngest is reading novels and playing games with the adults now? They just keep growing up. I remember myself at those ages; I hope they make it through these years better than I did. They talk about boys and diets and I worry, wish I could make their choices for them, but they're simply not mine to make.

Then there is the house I spent so many years in, my old bedroom now a nursery for my niece. Another sister gives up her bed while I visit, while still another spends the night snuggling with my toddler. The boy gets the floor and somehow it's so odd to see my children here, walking through this house where I myself was once the child.

Going home. Such a mix of memories, a mess of emotions. Each time feels at once both more strange and more comfortable. I'm more comfortable, me in my own skin, becoming my own person. But where do I fit in this home that is no longer mine?

Even the phrase itself is strange: "going home". Funny how the same two words are used when leaving the grocery store and when leaving the city to visit family. It's not my home anymore - I sleep on a borrowed bed and have to ask where the scissors are kept - and yet home it was for 21 years, and still I say that I am going home. I wonder when that will change, if it will ever change.

And then, last, there is this sleepy little town, where somehow everything and yet nothing stays the same.

I come back and everything is the same. The streets are familiar, comfortable; I drive through them without thought. There is my elementary school, my middle school, my high school. How very many memories those buildings hold: first boyfriends and first kisses, challenges and successes, friends and enemies and everything in between. There is the library where I worked and loved it; there is the bank where I worked and hated it. There, the church I grew up in. There is the path where my husband and I walked so often, once upon a pre-marriage time, sharing bits of our heart but mostly just flirting shamelessly (some things truly never change).

I come back and everything is different. There is the coffee shop where my husband first asked me out, now closed and boarded up. New stores have appeared and old ones have left town. The faces at the library are no longer those of my former co-workers; the church has a new minister now. The little kids I once babysat have left for university, as eager as I once was to escape this place and find freedom in the big city. Only a few stay, settling down to build homes, careers, and families.

Now I'm heading back to my new-home, where I am the wife and mother instead of the daughter and sister. It is harder to leave each time; I linger at those last hugs, trying to pour into them the feelings I can't seem to express any other way. It will feel, as it always does, lonely when I return, but we'll soon slip back into our daily routines and the feeling will fade. We'll make plans for a next visit and the time will pass more quickly than I expect. Once again, I'll be going home.

Once again, I won't know what to make of it.