Monday 27 February 2012

Tea Gazing

I stand at the counter, staring down into my steeping tea, lost in thought.

I regret my earlier impatience and misdirected anger. I love these kids so much and all the weakness is in me, my own to bear. And yet I am so like them, losing my temper because I'm hungry, being unreasonable because I'm tired, only I am the grown-up here, the one who should know better. Mother-guilt; I wonder if it ever really goes away.

As I watch the tea leaves swirling around, the familiar words start running through my mind, my heart. Most Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone... My heart and mind together finish* the well-worn prayer of confession. I linger for a minute longer, then remove the tea leaves and draw myself out of my thoughts and back into the steady demands of motherhood.

My tea is cold by the time I finish it.

Today I miss liturgical worship more than usual. There's always a part of me that misses it, but my Book of Common Prayer - a gift from the husband who knows me so well and yet in other ways wonders if he'll ever truly know me, this confusing and ever-changing person he married - is always close at hand. I read the familiar words aloud, often, hoping to write them on my children's hearts just as the familiar prayers and words of Scripture were written on my own through the years.

But it's not the same. I miss the rumbling of an entire congregation petitioning God aloud as one. I miss the depth, the richness, and the beauty of liturgical worship. I miss the hymns led by the robed choir. I miss kneeling at the alter, bowing my head as I receive the blessed sacrament of Holy Communion. I miss the reverence. I miss stepping into God's story alongside others as we follow together the Church calendar - Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time - together telling the entirety of our redemption in Christ, no part left out, over and over this individual and corporate pilgrimage.

Now I walk alongside others virtually, thanks to this double-edged sword that is the Internet, but here I am faced too with the relentless criticism of those who choose not to observe the church calendar; can't we all just let each other worship and learn and walk and grow in our own way? Must our journeys all be so identical; is God so limited? It hurts but I press on, drawing eyes off self and back to God as I walk and re-walk this Gospel road.

I miss the Anglican church. Our church now, small but home-like, is beautifully sincere and passionately community-minded. It is what we wanted, what we searched for. But oh, how I miss what will always feel like my true church home. How I long for the richness and depth of corporate liturgical worship.

How beautiful that day will be when Christ's Church is once again united and whole. One day every knee shall bow before God, together praising Him with one voice. For now, I seek my place amidst the brokenness as I worship Him in faith through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

But today, I'm just missing home.

* ...I have not loved You with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbours as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me, that I may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Weekend Reading: Double Edition

This weekend is another Double Edition of weekend reading.

First, a collection of beautiful readings on Lent - why, how, what it all means - as we enter into this time of penitential preparation:

And a collection of some of my favourite general readings from this past week:

May your weekend be filled with peace.

Friday 24 February 2012

Painter's Tape Roadway

Yesterday I handed the boy a fresh roll of painter's tape and suggested he use it to build a road on the carpet. Immediately his eyes lit up with excitement.

"I can put tape on the carpet??"
"Can I use as much as I want??"
"What if I use the whole roll?"
"Thank you, Mommy, for letting me do this!"

I first saw the idea on Pinterest (you can find my Pinterest boards here!), where Imagination Soup had done this project using coloured duct tape. Thanks for the inspiration, Imagination Soup!

The boy started off small, preferring to cut and precisely place small pieces of tape. He soon had an elaborate combination of curves and straight lines.

He had a very particular system worked out as to which parts were road and which parts were train tracks. I know, because I drove a car on the train track and was quickly reprimanded.

Eventually he moved on to bigger and longer roads, taking his road halfway across the room in one fell swoop.

He finished off with a little ramp for good measure.

When the road was done (aka the tape ran out), they moved on to making a house out of board books.

Or maybe it was a parking garage.

The road is still there and holding up well. I think we'll pull it up this weekend (I've already checked; it comes up smoothly!), but this will definitely be a project we'll tuck away for another rainy day. Time to stock up on more painter's tape!

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Promise

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Intimate God

I lay curled on my side, my favoured fetal position.

(The husband hates this. "It's hard to snuggle with you when your knees are in my ribs, you know." Sorry, Love.)

I lay there wondering when I will finally feel those first movements of the tiny one growing inside me. I marvel at the intensity of the love that I already feel for this child who I can not yet even sense, much less see and touch and smell.

I hear the silent whisper: "That is but a reflection of the way I love you, My Child."

That is the way my Heavenly Father loves me. Even more, truly, in its perfection and completeness.

I can scarcely fathom that sort of love from our holy God.

Scars still run deep from my first understanding of God, distant and angry, meting out his forgiveness with reluctance and only after much begging. Always watching, waiting for the mistakes, quick to anger. Sins separated as far as the east is from the west? No, never, but rather counted and recorded and stockpiled on scales that could never be balanced out.

My head has since learned of another picture, a picture of a God who is Love itself - not simply loving, a single characteristic, but Love in His entirety, the very embodiment of Love! - and yet my heart has been slower in accepting this. It's too good to be true...but then isn't the entire Gospel? It's all just too good, and yet somehow still true.

I surround my children with this picture of a God who is Love, but can I really do so completely if I haven't wholly accepted it myself? Can I reflect a picture, however weak and marred by human error, of that sort of unconditional, all-consuming love if part of me is pushing it away in my own life?

This, I decide, will be my Lent. Giving up...what? My picture of an angry God? My hesitance to wholly accept His perfect love in my life? I don't know. I can think of it only in the positive: I desire to spend this Lent coming to better know this God who loves us passionately and intimately and wholly. Drawing closer to the source of all life and goodness. Learning more of the passion that led to a cross and a tomb and a bodily resurrection.

"As Jesus addressed God by the Aramaic family word 'Abba', Father, so Christians are encouraged to do the same: to come to know God in the way in which, in the best sort of family, the child knows the parent. From time to time I have met Christians who look puzzled at this, and say that they have no idea what all that stuff is about. I have to say that being a Christian without having at least something of that intimate knowledge of the God who is at the same time majestic, awesome, and holy sounds like a contradiction in terms. One of the characteristic signs of the Spirit's work is precisely that sense of the intimate presence of God."
-N. T. Wright, "Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense"

Lead me during this time of Lent, Father, to a more intimate sense of your love and presence. Prepare my heart to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Your Son and our Savior.

Just writing along with The Extraordinary Ordinary...

Monday 20 February 2012

Is Obedience the Goal?

"The key to developing your children's full potential is to recognize that their foremost responsibility is to learn obedience. While they are living under your roof, they have a primary duty to learn to obey. It's absolutely crucial to understand that this is a child's primary goal in life. If a child can't learn to obey a parent who is visible, he'll never learn to obey a God who isn't." -Chip Ingram

"A child's primary goal [responsibility, duty] in life is to learn to obey." This quote is only one voice among many who presuppose the idea to be true. But is it? Is learning obedience the primary responsibility of children? Is obedience the goal of our parenting? While I will be exploring this question primarily from a Christian perspective, both the question and conclusion are universally relevant.

It's a tempting goal, to be sure. Who doesn't want obedient children? Things are certainly easier when a child obeys the first time, every time. Add to that the threat that a child who does not consistently obey his parent will be unable to obey God, and the whole question instantly becomes a non-issue. Of course the Christian parent wants his or her child to be able to obey God!

But for me, to have obedience as my goal is to have everything entirely backwards. Obedience is not my parenting goal.

Training a child to respond only to an external source of control fails to develop within them the confidence to make right choices in the face of pressure to do otherwise. It also fails to develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to hear and follow their own God-given instincts. It attunes them to external direction rather than the internal promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Training a child towards obedience is little more than moralistic behavior modification. It removes the child's focus from the bigger picture of God's story and places it instead on themselves and their own behaviour. Yet it is not our behaviour that draws us into a relationship with God, but rather His great love, kindness, mercy, and grace.

Although it is typically the parent who shapes a child's initial understanding of God, we cannot presume to take the place of God. Training a child to obey his parents in order to teach them how to obey God is both illogical and nearly blasphemous. God is perfect; we are not. Obedience to God is part of the child's own individual walk with God. It is not something that can be trained into them, but rather something they must to choose to do, and increasingly so as their relationship with Him deepens and matures.

Exploring God's Word

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of a rich man who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. This man had obeyed all of God's commandments since he was a boy, and yet he lacked one thing:

"Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
-Mark 10:21-22

The man lacked one thing: a love for God that outweighed his love for earthly wealth and possessions.

But when we contrast this man, who had obeyed God's commandments since he was a young boy, with the one whom God called "a man after God's own heart", we find some striking differences. David, too, had great wealth, but his love for God far surpassed that. And yet David was not known for his obedience. This was a man who remained in Jerusalem while his troops were at work, coveted his neighbor's wife, committed adultery with her, devised a plan to cover up his sin, had his mistress's husband murdered, and remained silent about his sin for nine months before repenting to God.

Despite David's disobedience, his heart was for God. He loved God. We find this same theme played out over and over in Scripture. The ones named among the righteous - Noah, Abraham, Peter, and more - are not without grievous disobedience and cause for repentance. Conversely, those who are secure in their obedience - the rich man, the Pharisees, many of the religious rulers of the time - are those whose hearts were furthest from God, lacking a sincere love for God while praising their own righteousness. Jesus said that the prostitutes and tax collectors would see the Kingdom of God before the Pharisees.

Even today, those who focus on obedience often do all the right things, believe all the right things, and yet have a haughty arrogant superiority that says (often quite literally, out loud, says), "you are not good enough to deserve my love. You don't believe the right things. You don't act the right way. You don't line up with my idea of a 'good Christian'. I will not get to know you, I will not listen to your story, I will not love you as I love myself." Doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. Clanging symbols without love.

No, mere obedience is not my goal. Obedience is important, but only within the correct context. The words of Jesus describe that context clearly in the book of John:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

-John 14:15-24

We cannot be obedient in our own right, sustained by our own power. "No one is good but God alone." (Luke 18:19) If pure goodness and obedience were possible, we would not have needed a Savior. Such a gospel is no gospel at all, for it lacks the Good News of the Messiah entirely. God does not want us to be merely moral and obedient for obedience's sake. He wants so much more than that: an obedience born out of love and sustained by the power of His Holy Spirit. Psalm 23 reminds us that He leads us along right paths for His name's sake. It is for His glory, not for the sake of our obedience. It is about Him, not about ourselves and our behaviour.

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control."(Galatians 5:22-23a) Goodness is the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of our own strivings towards obedience. True obedience is alive, organic, and vibrant; mere moralistic obedience is flat, self-reliant, and lacking in a true understanding of God's desires and purposes. The former is the "obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake" (Romans 1:5); the latter is a Pharisaical pseudo-righteous obedience to rules and precepts.

What are My Parenting Goals?

If God truly is the source of all goodness, and if I desire my children to come to live in true obedience to Him, my primary goal should be nothing more and nothing less than to point them towards the richness of God's love, kindness, mercy, and grace.

As such, if I had to sum up my entire parenting goal in a single word, it would be only this: Love. Loving my children is easy, but my goal is more than that. When I say that my goal is love, that goal is tri-fold: first, that I would express that love to my children in a healthy and undeniable way; second, that I would communicate clearly to them the unfailing love of their Heavenly Father, and develop in them a love and trust in response to that; and third, that they would love others in the truest possible sense of the word.

To phrase it another way, my goal for them is relationship: healthy relationships with family, with others, and ultimately and above all else with their Heavenly Father.

I don't want my children to walk through life simply doing as they are told. I want them to be awake and alive to the world in all its messy God-created glory, living their way through the ups and downs and greys in their own beautifully unique journey, a journey I could never presume to dictate for them, I who do not know what their Creator has planned.

My desire is to actively teach them right from wrong, pointing them always to the promptings of the Holy Spirit living within them that they may come to discern the difference for themselves. I desire to instill in them a strong internal locus of control that does not bend to external pressure, but rather chooses to do what is right in whatever situation they find themselves in. I desire to disciple them to maturity, not drill them to fear-based obedience where they recognize only external sources of control.

In short, my goal is to raise healthy, confident, self-aware, and compassionate individuals who love God with everything in them and who love others as themselves. If true, heart-level, internally-based obedience is a side-effect of that goal, all the better, but it will not and should not ever be my parenting goal in itself.

What is your primary parenting goal?

Wednesday 15 February 2012

To my unborn child

My dear sweet Mystery Baby. I don't know you yet, but I can hardly wait to meet you. Your older brothers are impatient as well; the oldest daily bemoans how long it is until you will arrive, while the younger one frequently asks if you're big enough to come out yet. Your daddy says you make him feel old - three children! - but he's excited to get to know you too.

Yesterday marked a milestone for us as, together, we entered the second trimester. We're a third of the way there, Mystery Baby. Just six more months until you become less of a mystery, although I've learned that in many ways, you will continue to be a mystery throughout your childhood. I look forward to getting to know you, little bit by little bit, over the years.

Will you be our third son? our first daughter? Either way, you will fulfill a dream, whether that dream be a house full of rambunctious boys or the uniqueness of a parent/daughter relationship. Either way, we will be thrilled with you; you are exactly who you are supposed to be.

Right now you're our little lemon baby, not yet four inches long but already moving all around, wiggling your tiny toes and sucking your tiny thumb and making tiny facial expressions. I wish I could watch you in there, but instead I simply wait for that moment when I can finally feel your precious movements. And then, of course, you'll grow and those movements will get less precious and more violent, but I'll love it anyway because it means all is well with you.

There are so many other moments I'm looking forward to. Our next ultrasound. A growing baby bump. Welcoming you into this world surrounded by family; tucking you into our bed that very night. Finally holding you in my arms and kissing your sweet head. Nursing you, watching you grow, seeing your first smile and all the rest. There is just so much to look forward to.

I have many hopes for you, my sweet Mystery Baby, but most of all I hope that you never doubt, not even for a moment, how very much you are loved and have been right from the very beginning. I love you now and always, with all of my heart.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

To my two year old

You are two, sweet baby, that magical place between babyhood and little-boyhood. I say it's my favourite age, but truly they all are, each in their own way. Your twos so far have been marvelous, full of laughter and sunshine and those precious two-year-old conversations. It is amazing to watch your personality continue to emerge.

Today you were running around bare-bottomed, us working together on the last stages of your potty learning, and you looked like such a big boy without your usual diaper. ("Watch out for the robins!", your Opa would warn you with a wink.) But, thank you, you still have that sweet baby look to you, with your round face and your perfect nose and your tiny lips and your big wide eyes and your soft downy hair and your chubby baby hands and oh, that round baby belly of yours. It's so precious I could just eat it up.

And then there's your perfectly adorable pout. Your brother has perfected the Pleading Puppy Dog look, and you, my dear, have mastered the Pouty Lip. If you two combined forces, there isn't anything you couldn't get out of anyone. Except your parents. Sorry, darling, we might melt, but we're still mostly immune to both the Pleading Puppy Dog look and the Pouty Lip. Mostly.

You are our crazy boy, our wild daredevil, the one who could climb stairs and scale chairs long before you could walk. Nothing keeps you down for long, wild child. I love watching you race around the house, a frenetic ping-pong ball ricocheting off the walls, your little legs unable to make the turns in time. Your laughter completes the picture and I can't help but grin at you a thousand times a day.

It is your big brother who receives most of your grins, though. You desire his undivided attention far more often than not. You're big enough now that the two of you wrestle on the floor, climbing over each other and falling and laughing and roaring and sometimes, yes, crying.

But at some point each day, you get caught up in your own play. I look up and find you absorbed in a book, oh-so-precisely building your Duplo, or ripping all the heads off your brother's Lego people (should I be worried, precious one?). Your brother escapes to his room when he wants to be alone, but you prefer to stay closer to everyone else. It falls to me to protect your solitude from your brother, who is suddenly jealous of your lost attention. It never lasts long, though, and the two of you are soon partners in crime again, your giggles filling the previous too-short moment of silence.

You have, child, the most stereotypical-boy sense of humour. If it involves poop or pee or bums or smelliness, you're falling over in wild laughter. (Your brother was never like this.) Your very first joke was to tease your daddy, as you were laying on the bed mid-diaper change, that you were going to "pee on the bed!" It's been your private joke with him ever since. I'd tsk at the both of you, but secretly I find it just as funny as you two do.

You're going to have to temper that humour with just a wee bit of reverence, son. Tonight you and your brother were laying side-by-side on your bellies, flipping through the pages of your storybook Bible, when you said, "God smelly!" and rolled over in laughter. Your brother was quick to correct you, though: "God is not smelly. Not even once." (I managed, somehow, to hold my chuckle in.) He then continued to tell you each of the Bible stories as you paged through the book. You listened, enthralled, and I quietly listened as well. He knows that book well and it warms my heart to hear him passing those stories on to you.

Soon you'll be a big brother too. I wonder what you'll think of that role. Will you embrace it as wholeheartedly as your own big brother did? Will you resent it? Will you feel lost in the middle? You'll never be the oldest child, never again the baby of the family. Already we struggle to keep your birthday separate from the excitement and commotion of the Christmas holidays; will you one day come to feel lost, lost in Christmas, lost in your birth order, struggling to find a place that is all your own? An Oldest myself, I somehow feel fiercely protective of you, wanting to shelter you from the mysterious-to-me role of the Middle. I suppose, as with all things, we'll just have to muddle through this together. And start saving for your inevitable future therapy.

Oh, child. I am so entirely enraptured with your joyful little self. I could go on forever, writing down every perfect phrase you utter, every silly game you play, your love for animals, the way you yell "safe!!" when you're feeling scared, every tiny thing that makes you so utterly and magically You. But for now, I'll just say this: I love you, I love you, I love you. Always and forever, with all of my heart.

Monday 13 February 2012

To my four year old

Your fours are nearly over; you are barreling towards five and I want to capture this moment, freeze it in time, bottle its essence, remember every precious moment of it. Because parenting you, darling, just keeps getting better and better.

We made it, somehow, through your first sleepless year. The next year was fun and silly as you grew into your toddlerhood. Two was downright amazing and your threes were even better. And then four, filled with your chatter and thoughts and big ideas and even bigger questions - God, death, marriage, more, you ask about all of it and I can barely keep up. I love getting to know more of who you are with each passing year. You are incredible.

Sometimes I miss the days when you were cradled in my womb. You were so safe there, and somehow so completely mine in a way that you haven't been since. Now I share you with the world, but more than that, you are your own person, wholly unique and not truly mine at all. Your choices, your life, it's all yours. I am merely the one blessed with the privilege of watching you become alive in this world, awake to all of its glorious God-created wonders. And in doing so, you have made me more alive as well.

Last week I watched you sitting with your little brother, each of you leaning his head against the other while you flipped through the pages of a book together. You were teaching him "big" and "little" and he was completely absorbed until he fell backwards in a fit of giggles about something you had said. Nearly every day I find myself with tears in my eyes over something you've said or done for your little brother. You are so incredibly sweet and kind and protective and simply wonderful. I can't wait to see your relationship unfold with your next little sibling.

Your sweetness melts my heart every day. Just tonight, after our nightly snuggle, you told me you wanted to buy me something special. You suggested a diamond necklace (how do you even know about diamond necklaces?), a nice new watch, or whatever surprise I wanted. I told you that all I wanted was to spend time with you and your brother, but you were insistent that whenever I decided what I wanted, you would go out to buy me my special surprise. You, my darling, will make a wonderful husband someday. Like when you're 30. Or 40. I'm not sure I can let you go any sooner than that.

Ah, if only. No, I know that just as you were born your own person nearly five years ago, being your mother is simply the long process of stepping back and watching you emerge as I slowly let go. But oh, darling, that doesn't mean it's always easy; in fact, sometimes watching you grow up is absolutely terrifying.

Already you are becoming increasingly independent. You often get your own breakfast, and your brother's too. You wash the tables and counters, bring in the clean laundry, help me around the house, most of it without my asking at all. I haven't vacuumed in weeks because you've taken that on as your own job; you are not as obsessively thorough as I am, but learning to let it go is just one of the many many lessons you've taught me over the years. So what if our guests see various bits of detritus around the edges of the carpet? I have a feeling they'll continue to love us anyway.

And you, my dear, I will love forever and longer, with every bit of my heart. No matter what.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Weekend Reading: Double Edition

I had so many favourites marked to share with you this week, I just had to do another Double Edition of weekend reading.

These four incredible posts were ones I discovered through Sarah's Practices of Parenting Carnival:

And these five applause-worthy posts were ones I stumbled across in my general blog reading this week:

May your weekend be filled with joy and peace!

Friday 10 February 2012

We're going on a treasure hunt!

After breakfast was finished this morning, I prompted the boy to look underneath the pile of placemats on our kitchen table. Grinning in anticipation, he ran over and looked under each one individually until he got to the bottom of the pile, where he found...

the first clue!

And so began our treasure hunt. I'd hidden the clues (below) and "treasure" (a sweet treat!) before going to bed last night, so all I had to do today was sit on the couch and read each clue as they brought it to me. A nice quiet way for me to start the day; a fun active way for them to run around the house and blow off some too-many-rainy-days energy!

The boy had a great time trying to figure out where each clue was hidden. The toddler chased after him for the first half, then lost interest and played with his Duplo until he could have his older brother's undivided attention again. Ah, big brother adoration. So sweet.

As soon as all of the clues were followed and the treasure found, the boy wanted me to hide each of the clues again. Definitely a successful activity!

These are the clues we used. Feel free to use, modify, or share them for your own treasure hunts!

It's a Treasure Hunt!
Follow the clues to find the treasure!

Clue #1:
I have four legs.
I am strong enough to hold a person,
but you can also use me to make a fort.
Your next clue is taped to my bottom!

Clue #2:
You'll find me in the place where these live:

Clue #3:
Brr! It was cold in there!
Your next clue is staying cozy above something very warm!

Clue #4:
I'm hiding in the pocket of something that rhymes with this:

Clue #5:
When you're feeling a little dirty
there's just one place to go
to wash and get all squeaky clean
and scrub between each toe!

Clue #6:
Getting tired of all these clues?
Come have a nap with me!

Clue #7:
Go stand in front of the fireplace!
Now take two GIANT steps forward.
Turn to your left.
Walk until you crash into something!
Now come have a ball with me!

[The clue was hidden in the pile of balls we store under our ExerSaucer.]

Clue #8:
Read this word:
Now go look below its:
and you'll find me!

Clue #9:
Have wet clothes?
Come visit me!
I'll dry them for you
as quick as can be!

Clue #10:
Stand on one foot and jump up and down.
Now find a boat, look inside, and your treasure will be found!

Happy playing!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Do the needful

I am tired and everything seems More. More demanding, more frequent, more weighty, more.

Two babies need their diapers changed and all three of them need lunch and I need food and the breakfast dishes are still on the table and my bladder is weighing in with its own demands and all of it needs to be attended to now but I only have two hands!

Overwhelmed by the growing urgency of all that must be done, I stop, remind myself: Do the next thing. Simply do the next needful thing.

I clear a space on the floor and kneel amidst the sea of toys to change two diapers.

I move the breakfast dishes to the dishwasher and empty the rest of the table.

I set one baby in front of his mama-sent lunch and begin slicing fruit and veggies for my own boys, scooping hummus and tearing up pitas and peeling boiled eggs.

They begin eating and I slip away to the bathroom, then return and eat my own lunch.

Everything is calm again.

Just do the next needful thing.

Again later in the evening, everything demands attention at once. Dinner is finished and the table needs to be cleared and the pots need to be washed and the laundry needs to be switched over before bedtime and it's time to start the boys on tidying up the living room and the floor needs to be swept and once again my bladder is making its presence known (thanks to the tiny human sitting on it) and oh, deep breath. Just do the next thing.

I feel annoyance rising as I move quickly from one task to the next, but then I remember: All is worship when done as worship. Thank you, Lord, for these dirty dishes, because it means that we have food. Thank you for this warm water. Thank you for the happy, if slightly chaotic, day that led to this mess. Thank you for this opportunity to serve. Thank you for this home.

I wash the pots while the dishwasher takes care of the dishes, humming along beside me, my steady companion in this daily repetitive work. Soon everything is done - laundry, sweeping, tidying - and children are ready for bed and I know the exhale will soon come.

In the meantime, I will simply do the next needful thing.

Monday 6 February 2012

The Value of an Apology

I wish I could say I never had cause to apologize to my children. It would be lovely if I never lost my temper or overreacted or failed to do the right thing. It would be marvelous if I never yelled or brushed off or rolled my eyes. I would be delighted if I never demanded too much of them or offered too little of myself.

But I am human and I do these things. I snap impatient. I holler shame. I refuse selfishly. And in doing so, I wound those who are both the most precious and most defenseless: my children.

I can know all the right things to do and say, focusing on relationship and connection as I gently guide my children through life...but I'm going to mess up. And when I do the wrong thing, I need to fix it. I need to make amends and restore the relationship I have damaged.

I need to apologize.

And in doing so, I find such sweetness in a child's ready forgiveness.

I remember being pregnant and tired and grumpy. I wasn't giving my best to my oldest. Gone were the days of peacefully and patiently wandering through our days together. Instead I was being snippy and loud, intolerant of his typical-two behaviour.

Suddenly I was having to humble myself, kneel down, and apologize to my child.

Part of me wanted to protest: But I'm the grown-up! He should have just listened to me the first time! What pride and foolishness it would have been to allow that to still my tongue and leave my child heartsick and ashamed.

Instead, I would gather him into my arms each time. As I did, I would tell him:
"I am sorry, Love. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. It was wrong of me. God doesn't want me to treat you that way. He doesn't want anyone to treat you that way. He created you and you are His child, and He wants me to take care of you properly. Will you forgive me?"
His forgiveness was always offered readily, putting to shame my own habit of holding on to hurt and anger. After granting me his forgiveness, he would hold my hand as I prayed aloud for God to forgive me as well.

I wish I could say everything was sunny and serene again once the baby was born, but those days are long past. I am an imperfect person and an imperfect mother; is there any other kind? I continually strive for better, seeking those practices which help each of us to grow and bloom and thrive, but I make mistakes along the journey. I lose my temper, kneel, and apologize. I overlook the needful, draw near, and ask forgiveness. And by doing so, I discover relationships restored, hearts softened, self-worth reaffirmed, and connection strengthened.

There is healing in apology, both for them and for me. There is beauty in a return to peace and connection. There is joy in knowing that we are not defined by our mistakes. Aside from prayer as I seek the Spirit's leading along this journey, there is no aspect of my parenting more important than admitting my wrongdoings and seeking my child's forgiveness. None of the rest matters if I withhold that which they need most: the knowledge and assurance that they are worthy, that they don't deserve to be treated poorly, and that my mistakes are not excused simply because I'm an adult. They need my humble and sincere apologies as much as they need my unconditional love.

An apology from the one who has wronged them is sweet comfort and reassurance, and words of truth and worth and value nourish our children's souls.
Today I am joining in Sarah's Practices of Parenting Carnival by sharing one of my own Practices of Mothering.

For a wealth of wisdom and beauty, read the rest of Sarah's Practices of Mothering series.

Friday 3 February 2012

Five years together

Today is our fifth anniversary, Love.

You don't know it yet, but I have big plans for our evening. Your wonderful parents are taking care of our sweet boys while we, for the first time since our wedding night, spend a night at a hotel alone. With a third little one on the way, it will be our only chance for quite a while, so I wanted to take it - for you.

After our dinner at a fancy French restaurant, followed by a evening stroll downtown, we'll head back to the hotel to enjoy the rest of the evening and night to ourselves. I have our reservations made and everything we need stashed in the trunk - our packed suitcase, a selection of DVDs, sparkling grape juice, and, of course, chocolate. Mostly for me, but I'll share with you. I'm nice that way.

It's funny how two strange people like us ended up together. It seems that we who make our decisions based on number patterns and other such twisted forms of pseudo-logic should have a voice of reason as a partner. Then again, it is awfully nice to have someone who doesn't laugh when I say we should stop here because it's chapter fourteen; no, instead you argued that fifteen was a better chapter to end on, being a multiple of five. (I still say I'm right: fourteen, twice seven, has been my lucky number since childhood. What could be better than seven times two?)

Remember our beginnings? What a long process that was. Years of watching each other from a distance, certain our feelings were one-sided. Then off you went to university and that, I thought, was the end of that. Two years later you returned and finally, finally, we allowed ourselves to form a deep and true friendship. A year later, I had just given up any hope that you would take it any further than that when, at long last, you asked me that very question. Ah, that awkward first year of being a couple. Everything was new and exciting, but Love, I like what we have now so much more.

A year of dating and then off you went again. We did the long-distance thing for two terribly long years before I could finally join you there, secure in the knowledge that we were both ready for that final step, the big scary M-word.

And then there was, perhaps, our true beginning. We don't talk about it often, not with others. We let people assume we did everything "the right way", that we're "good Christians" (whatever that means, really). But maybe our world needs more truth, like the truth of two dark lines on a pregnancy test and tears and days of silence and both of us feeling like scared kids, worried about what our parents would say, what our church would say. Suddenly it didn't matter that you'd already chosen the day you'd ask me to marry you (our third dating anniversary) or that I'd already chosen our wedding date (seven-seven-oh-seven). All that mattered was that we'd done things wrong. Those plans of ours changed.

There's this question that has been weighing on my mind this past week, thinking about those beginnings of ours. I remember when, after two days of silence, of you being there-but-not-really-there, it came time to talk it through. I already knew what I was going to do. I was going to love my baby and let the rest happen however it happened. But what about you? I finally asked, and there was more silence, and then you told me you'd stay. You'd stay because even if you left, people would still find out. You were being honest about your inability to hide from the consequences of our actions - people would still find out - but oh, those words sunk down deep inside me. And sometimes, during moments of doubt, that is the question that weighs on my mind: Is that the only reason you stayed? Would you have left if you could have escaped shame-free?

We were lying in bed last night, both of us tired but unable to sleep. I wanted to ask you that deep niggling question of mine. But then a different voice spoke up. Stepping over my insecurities and fears, the voice of peace and calm and reason asked, what does it matter? And oh, Love, it doesn't. It doesn't matter why you stayed then because there isn't even the slightest part of me that questions whether or not you deeply love and cherish me now. You do, and I have never had cause to question it.

Children aside, this is the single greatest gift you have given me in our marriage: the gift of knowing for certain that you love, cherish, and adore me. Oh, you don't always like me. I don't always like you. We are so woefully imperfect, learning and growing together along this journey. But you love me and I love you, and I hope you feel my love just as assuredly as I feel yours.

This dance of ours has had its highs and lows over the years, but here we are, ending our fifth year together on the mountaintop, closer than ever. It gives me hope for the rest of our years together. This marriage stuff can be hard, but it is oh-so-worth it.

So Love, here's to five years together. I can't wait to see what the next five bring.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Is it all a Lie?

I'd never claim to be a perfect mother. I don't know any moms who would. I have my bad days, my challenges, and my moments of doing that which I do not want to do.

But those aren't the moments I wish to dwell on. They happen, yes. I share them, yes. But what I seek is to find peace and joy in the moment. It goes without saying that some days I find myself fishing toys out of the litter box or scrubbing poo out of the carpet in the middle of the night. But those aren't the moments that stick in my mind, because they all go straight out the window the moment I tell my toddler I love him and he replies, "Mommy, I love you!"

Becoming a mother was a turning point in my life and the catalyst for a great deal of personal growth and healing. I wanted a place to both document and share my journey towards a life governed by purpose and intention. My journey is my own. Of the other blogs I read, some are on a journey similar to mine, and others are on a very different journey. Each one is valuable. Each one is worth sharing.

And yet there seems to be a trend of deriding those bloggers who write anything considered "alternative". They are accused of being holier-than-thou, of judging others, of making others feel bad about their lives, of presenting an impossible image, and above all, of pretending to have the perfect life.

If a blogger writes about homeschooling, does that equal a slight against those who choose public school for their children? I read blogs written by mothers who public school. They talk about how their children are doing there, about how good it has been for their little ones, about what a positive it is in their family's life. I don't find that offensive, as though I am somehow depriving my children by choosing another option (unless, of course, the blogger straight-out says so, in which case I'll just have one less blog to read). I am happy for them. I celebrate their successes and joys with them. So why does writing about a different sort of educational journey mean that a blogger is somehow placing herself above those parents?

If a blogger has a positive birth experience and shares it, does that negate the reality of someone else's birth experience? If my homebirth was beautiful, I'm going to say so. If my hospital birth was beautiful, I'm going to say so. If my homebirth was awful, I'm going to say so. If my hospital birth was awful, I'm going to say so. Does speaking my truth somehow mean that I am being inauthentic, simply because your own truth may be different?

Cloth diapering can be overwhelming to get started with. If a blogger shares information to make that process easier for someone who is interested, how is that scorning those who are perfectly happy with their babies' disposable diapers? Why not simply appreciate that the information is there for those who do want it?

If a blogger finds an interesting project on Pinterest and shares the results, does it make you a terrible mother if it isn't the sort of thing that floats your boat? You have your way of winding down, of relaxing, of finding peace, of doing something just for you simply because you enjoy it. Your way might be different than another blogger's. So you're not into crafts but you love cooking. Or you're not into cooking but you like to wind down in front of a good movie. That's okay. Must every blogger keep their own ways to themselves for fear of making someone else feel inadequate? Must I hide who I am so that you can be who you are?

If a blogger finds motherhood enjoyable, is she a liar? Must every entry celebrating a positive be followed by an entry stressing how awful and difficult and challenging this all is? Are we only permitted to share the uglier side of life so as not to make anyone "feel bad"?

If a blogger really wants to avoid the so-called mommy wars, why tear down those bloggers whose lives seem to be "too good"?

If I'm having a friend over, chances are I'll tidy up a few things and scrub a couple sticky spots off the kitchen floor. Am I an inauthentic person because I don't want my guests' socks sticking to my floor? And when she comes, am I presenting a rosy picture of fake perfection if I don't share with her the nitty-gritty details of the hypothetical fight I had with my husband the night before? If not, then why am I, as a blogger, expected to showcase every dirty toilet and difficult moment in the name of "keepin' it real"?

I don't know, maybe there truly are bloggers out there who claim to be perfect. I certainly haven't come across one yet. I read blogs that are encouraging, uplifting, challenging, and inspiring, but none written by people who I presume live magical, perfect lives. I read about Robin, the Jewish mother whose children attend daycare and private school, because she has an extraordinary ability to take the most ordinary of moments and spin them into magical tales with her gift for storytelling. I read about Ann and find hope that God can redeem even my deepest weaknesses. I read about Theresa as she balances her ideals and reality while raising three children under two. I read about Dulce as she speaks out to remind other Christians that we are called to treat our children as we would like to be treated. I read the passionate voices of Sarah, Megan, Rachel, and Jen. I follow the journeys of Melissa and Enigma. Even SouleMama encourages me to let go of perfection and embrace the scarred and weathered.

I can allow my self-worth to be determined in comparison to others, or I can find joy in letting go and living fully in the present - as fully as I can, flawed person that I am.

Today, friend, I want to celebrate you. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do, however you live, whatever your passions, whatever your challenges. Whether your life is currently hard, wonderful, or somewhere in between. Because I know that most of us are just trying to live our lives in the way that feels best to us - and our doing so isn't a slight against those who do things differently. Keep sharing who you are and what's on your heart. The world needs your stories and your truth, whatever they may be.