Tuesday 31 July 2012

What I Am Into - July 2012

Today I am joining Megan at SortaCrunchy in sharing What I've Been Into this past month.

What I Am Into :: JULY 2012

On My Nightstand:

I'm still working my way through O. M. Bakke's When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity. It's been a highly interesting read so far. I'm also well into Your Amazing Newborn by Marshall Klaus, in mental preparation for having a newborn again (just a couple of weeks to go!). It's a lovely book, very sweet but also quite interesting.

I'm slowly paging my way through Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom, lent to me with high recommendations by my mother-in-law. I may or may not finish it. My husband and I are re-reading The Golden Compass trilogy by Philip Pullman together, but it's going slowly as well.

Want to Read:

Still on the next-up list is Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N. T. Wright. I'm really looking forward to it but I haven't the mental presence to get into it right now. I'll knock a book or two of my currently-reading list first, and then, you know, have a baby and whatever.

T.V. Show Worth Watching:

I gave in. I just had to see what all the hype was about, plus I hate not being in on geek jokes. Yes, we've finally started watching Doctor Who. We're partway through Season 2 and both of us are hooked. In fact, I'm rushing through this entry right now in hopes of having time to slip in another episode before bed. Moving on!

Movies I've Seen:

We did get to see The Avengers in theater after all, which was very exciting. My lovely sister-in-law hung out with the boys while the husband and I went to the movie. On our way home, we found out that SIL has the magic touch and had actually managed to get both kids not only in bed, but asleep already. Date night continued! We went to Starbucks and talked over a game of Ticket to Ride on my phone. I can't remember who won but it was a very enjoyable evening. Oh yes, and the movie was very good as well.

In My Kitchen:

The Yummy Life's zucchini brownies were amazing. Perfect for a recent gathering in our home, and the few remaining have been quickly and quietly disappearing by she-who-shall-not-be-named. Okay, fine, it's me. Whatever. They're delicious.

Other than that, meals have been pretty basic around here. I bought the husband a portable grill for his birthday, and sadly I have no idea how it works. Very very sad. We've been having a lot of grilled steak, sausages, and hamburgers since then. Love the easy clean-up and the fact that I don't have to cook more than a side, if that, on those nights. Hmm. I'm beginning to think this grill was actually a present to myself. We'll just keep that between you and me, m'kay? Our little secret.

I've also started stocking the freezer with more meals for post-baby. Tonight's productivity included five cups of shredded chicken to use for stir-fries, chicken pizza, quesadillas, and so on. I've put away lots of chocolate chip cookies. Next up is a huge batch of turkey pot pie filling (my favourite) and some muffins.

In My Ears:

I have finally found a CD of hymns that I enjoy. I love hymns but most musicians seem to feel the need to do terrible, horrible things to them. I don't know why this is. Why must they mess with the tempo, rhythm, and often even the tune? It is Well with my Soul, for example, is not an upbeat, happy song; it was written in the face of unimaginable tragedy. Don't force it into something upbeat and cheerful; it's not. It's faith and quiet peace in the midst of deepest pain. Let it speak to that.

Anyway. As I was saying, I've finally found a CD of hymns that hasn't been ruined with awful melodies, tempos, and rhythms, nor has sunshine and rainbows been forced on every song. Selah's Greatest Hymns CD has been a beautiful addition to our days. Thank you, Selah, for respecting the hymns' musical integrity. It is much appreciated in our home.

Pinterest Finds:

Here's what I'm loving on Pinterest lately:

I must make these. Simply must.

And this. What a perfect fall meal. It looks amazing.

I have a box ready and waiting for this next rainy-day activity with the boys.

What I'm Looking Forward to in August:

Does it even need to be said? Just two more weeks until this tiny one is due!

Before then, however, we have an unusually busy schedule. The boy starts his very first summer camp next week (art and music). The weekend before the baby is due, we have a party Friday (housewarming), Saturday (birthday), and Sunday (farewell). We have four Bible studies or church gatherings, three midwife appointments, and two planned playdates/outings (and a partridge in a pear tree). Not to mention the pre-baby to-do list I have to finish up! The distractions will be welcome, however, and we're looking forward to all of it while also eagerly (and sometimes nervously!) awaiting the arrival of our third child.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?

Friday 27 July 2012

Saved by Grace

Grace is all that is saving me right now.

37 weeks and the end is drawing near. I am feeling its urgency pressing into my days. I am finding myself drawing inwards and yet I am so needed, so many needs, when I just want to be somewhere alone. I am tired, so tired. I am even afraid. Afraid of pain. Afraid of being responsible for more needs. Afraid of my own frailty.

But grace is saving me.

I am saved by the grace of children who forgive me when I blow up at them again. They are so young and so loud and so good but oh so very loud. And there are oh so very many apologies from me, and still they forgive, seventy times seven and beyond.

I am saved by the grace of a soul-filling visit from a friend. I haven't done this enough, I can tell by the relief when she arrives, the lingering peace when she leaves. I might crave solitude right now but it is the love of others that is truly sustaining me.

I am saved by the grace of another mother's baby, with sparkling eyes and round cheeks and an easy smile. I remember - oh yes, that's why - and the hard times don't feel so heavy anymore. Soon, soon, I will hold my own tiny treasure in my arms.

I am saved by the grace of small things. A song. A list. An iron pill. A nap. A square of dark chocolate. A walk to the mailbox. A kiss from my toddler, help from my growing boy, a touch from my husband. So many small things that are steadying my world right now.

I am saved by the grace of a God who is Good. I release worries and failings and breathe in His peace. Grace, grace, grace.

I am saved by grace, yes, but also by its twin, hope. Hope that tomorrow might be better. I receive encouragement from one who has been here and come out on the other side, moved beyond the challenges of pregnancy and young childhood and reached back to reassure, cherish it, but also know that it is only a short season. I open my eyes and cherish it, all of it, but quietly hold close the hope of sleep-filled nights and easier days, too.

Life is good and it is hard and it is messy, but always those two are at hand, grace and hope, wrapped up in the most precious of love.

And they are saving me, moment by moment, right now.

Linking up with Sarah, in which we are saved.

Monday 23 July 2012

Preparing siblings for a homebirth

As this week marks the 37th week of pregnancy, our third baby is now officially "full term". (No rush though, little one; Mommy still has so much to do!) In addition to preparing the boys for the presence of their new baby brother or sister, we've begun preparing them for our second planned homebirth as well.

Our last homebirth was rather faster than we had expected, but the boy woke up for the very end and had a great chat with the firefighters when they arrived a few minutes later. Yes, the firefighters are the only memory he has of his little brother's birth. Quite the excitement when you're two years old.

In hopes of actually having a non-emergent homebirth this time - one that doesn't involve paramedics and firefighters and my mother-in-law catching an unexpected baby - we've been making the necessary preparations for the older boys, both in terms of preparing for their needs during the labour and mentally preparing them for what the experience might look like.

Have a dedicated support person

Our top priority is to have a dedicated support person in the house to care for the boys during the labour. We are fortunate again to have my mother-in-law coming to stay with us prior to the due date in order to be that support person. Our support person's sole responsibility is to be there for the two boys, meeting both their physical needs (food, bedtime, trips to the bathroom) and emotional needs (entertainment, answering their questions, talking them through what's going on, removing them from the room/house if they don't want to be there).

The boys both know they are more than welcome to witness the birth of their new siblings; they are also free to choose not to be there if they find the experience too scary or overwhelming. In that regard, our support person is an optional resource for them. They are not required to be under her care if they choose to be involved in the labour and birth instead.

On the off chance I go into labour before our support person arrives, we will have a second person lined up as backup.

Include them in the preparations

Gathering supplies, preparing food, and talking about the logistics of the homebirth are additional ways our boys can be involved in and prepared for the birth. Who will be there? What can we have on hand to eat? What can we prepare ahead of time? Why do we include this or that in our supplies? What can the kids do during the birth? In what ways might they be able to help me during the labour?

Because they have attended all prenatal appointments with me, they are familiar with our team of midwives, as well as with some of the equipment they use. This familiarity will further increase their comfort when the big day comes.

Talk about their own births

Both boys love hearing about their own births at any time, but we've been talking about those experiences even more in preparation for this third birth. Because their births were so very different in nearly every possible way, it provides a nice range of experiences to draw from. We've also talked about the bit I know of their relatives' and friends' births, thereby adding to their collection of potential birth scenarios.

Be honest about potential experiences

During my second pregnancy, I spent hours reading other birth stories (with a focus on positive ones) in order to mentally prepare myself for what I would be going through myself. I found great comfort in doing so; likewise, providing the boys with a number of birth stories gives them a better grasp on what may be to come. In addition to these past stories, however, we've also talked directly about what this experience may be like.

We've been deliberately honest about the various aspects of birth. Knowing myself, it is likely to be loud. There will be yelling, and that's okay. It will hurt, and that's alright. There will be various birthing fluids, including blood, and that's normal. If the baby or I need help from a doctor, we will go to a hospital while they stay with their Oma. The better they are mentally prepared for these various sights, sounds, and possibilities, along with all the correct terminology, the less frightening and overwhelming those things will be.

These discussions always draw some excellent questions from the boys; again, answering these questions in a way that is both honest and reassuring will help prepare them for the birth.

Watch videos and read books

Finally, watching videos and reading books about homebirth further adds to their understanding of what the experience might look like.

I highly recommend Mothering's 6 Birth Videos compilation as an immensely useful resource.

The interactive fetal development tool is our favourite in-utero look at how the baby develops; it can also be used to give an idea of where and how the baby will descend through the birth canal.

Our midwives have one of the incredible MamAmor dolls in their waiting room, which has allowed us a fun hands-on look at the process of childbirth. This process is daily reenacted in our living room by our enthusiastic boys/"mothers", with the help of various stuffed animals and dolls!

There are some lovely homebirth books available as well, including:

Any additional suggestions? What did you find helpful in preparing your older children for a homebirth?

Additional resources
Why homebirth?
Preparing siblings for a new baby
Attachment Parenting Series: Birth Bonding

Sunday 15 July 2012

"What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children" Book Review & Giveaway

"...awareness always precedes change."

So encourages author Sarah MacLaughlin in the introduction to her book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. "Rather than dwelling on occasional poor form," she continues, "focus on your intention to improve."

For parents and caregivers looking to improve their communication with children, this book provides both the awareness and the practical guidance to do so. Focusing on 1- to 6-year-olds, this short and to-the-point guidebook covers 66 common phrases that are counter-productive to raising emotionally healthy children.

Each chapter is hung on an effective framework of topic discussion, "what not to say" phrases, and more beneficial phrases that can be used instead. Children's book recommendations related to the chapter topics are also included in each section, furthering the parent's ability to discuss the topic with the child through an effective and age-appropriate means.

Following the introduction, the first chapter discusses common reasons that adults use ineffective or inconsiderate phrases when speaking to children, including fear, fatigue, and the expressions we heard as children. I found this to be a useful opening, as knowing why we do things is often the biggest hurdle to overcome in moving on to better paths.

The rest of the book was a refreshing and succinct reminder of, well, what not to say. "What on earth are you doing?" "Be nice." "There's nothing to be afraid of." "Good job!" While some of the phrases were completely out-of-bounds for me, others reminded me of my own struggles with carelessly tossing out a threat or speaking disrespectfully out of frustration. A few were phrases I'd never even considered as being inappropriate or ineffective; I always love finishing a book and feeling like I've learned something new.

What Not to Say covers a range of communication-related topics, including clarity of speech, tone, narration, respectful language, labels, bribes, emotional intelligence, control, and consistency. Above all, I appreciated the focus on seeking solutions rather than scolding, shaming, lecturing, spanking, or entering into power struggles.

This is definitely a book I would recommend to parents or caregivers of young children. It was short enough to be easy to get through, with just enough theory to make it convincing while still being heavy on the practical application. A perfect balance all around!

Win it!

Sarah is generously giving away an eBook copy of "What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children" (PDF, epub, or Kindle format) at each blog stop. To enter, leave a comment on this post sharing a phrase you have eliminated or are currently trying to eliminate from your communication with your child. Sarah will announce the winner in the comments of this post tomorrow. Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you if you win!

Other stops and opportunities to win during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah's Blog Tour page.

Also, you can enter at Sarah's site for the Grand Prize Giveaway: a Kindle Touch! The winner will be announced at the end of the tour after July 15th.

About The Author

Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and a nanny. Sarah is currently a licensed social worker at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine, where she works as the resource coordinator in therapeutic foster care. She serves on the board of Birth Roots and writes the "Parenting Toolbox" column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family. Sarah teaches classes and workshops locally and consults with families everywhere. She considers it her life's work to to promote happy, well-adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say.

More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her website and her blog.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Weekend Reading

A Feast Without Leftovers @ Blue Yonder Ranch
It’s okay though. In the words of that great troubadour of old (John Mayer), I didn’t have a camera by my side, so “I could see the world with both my eyes.”

It was a phase of life – just being in the moment, just enjoying what was without worrying at all about how to save it for later.

A feast without leftovers.

So while I don’t have the answers – I still don’t know whether it’s better to blog or not to blog - I do know that I am grateful for the friends that I made and the stories that I shared here. I am equally grateful for the time that I was quiet and for the experiences that I just lived without wondering how they would translate to a post.

Teach Children the Bible Is Not About Them by Sally Lloyd-Jones
When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing — it’s about God, and what he has done!

Because the power of the story isn’t in the lesson.

The power of the story is the story.

I stole your stuff. Now I’m holding it for ransom. @ The Path Less Taken
To the contrary, in our house we operate as a family. We’re all on the same team. It’s not my house, or my husband’s house, or the kids’ house...it’s our house. We all work together, and we respect each other’s things.

We respect each other’s differences, we communicate, we compromise, we give and we take. We operate as a family.

This house is our haven. The one place we’re guaranteed to be free to be ourselves, and free to give and receive unconditional love. To learn, to play, to experiment, to grow. Sometimes our house is clean. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes it’s very messy.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bread Connection @ Rhythm of the Home
Then I heard jesting and cackling outside as three women down the street arrived; they had been meeting every Friday morning for the last fifty years to bake their bread in this oven that was 400 years old. The thought of 400 years worth of history going into the bread every week was enough to take my breath away.

These women worked with such ease; they had rhythm that was as seamless and ingrained into their bodies as the soot was to the ceiling. There was always an order to be followed: to the left of the oven they lined up all their bread yet to be baked; one woman would place the bread from the board onto the peel; the next would make the special mark on top so they knew whose loaves were whose. Finally the oven master would slip the peel into the oven, arranging each loaf just so, according to size and time requirement; a knowledge only years of practice could perfect.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Letter to Myself

It's my birthday and this letter is my gift to myself...

Dear Self,

Today you begin the final year of your twenties.

You are learning, slowly, what it is to love others. My hope now is that you would continue to the "as yourself" part, loving what our Creator God knit together in your mother's womb.

You haven't always been kind to your body. Once upon a time you tried to starve it away, blind to who you were and who you would one day be. You despised your body and you despised your own powerlessness, your lack of a voice, and it was a terrible combination.

But you've found your voice these past few years, haven't you?

You've found your voice but you've lost your early-twenties body. You're starting to notice that loss more - an unexpected glimpse of dimpled thighs, a grimace when you glance at the red rivers running over your growing belly, a wave of embarrassment when you see yourself captured in a photo.

As you finish off this decade of your life, I encourage you to learn to love what is, not what was. Let me help you.

Your hands are beautiful. Today your hands are swollen; your wedding ring is stuck and you joke to your husband that there's no escape for you now, the ring won't come off. But those same swollen hands pulled a sliver out of your boy's foot, rubbed your toddler's back as he cried, and stroked your husband's hair. They daily prepare food; they scrub dishes with cloths they themselves have knit. They turn the pages of books and tap out your stories on the computer. They nurture yourself and your family and your home. Your hands are beautiful.

Your arms are beautiful. They lack the definition they once had, but not the strength. They are strong enough to lift growing boys, comforting enough to rock them to sleep, and long enough to embrace them both at once. They pull your husband close as you greet him. They lift and carry and hold and serve. Your arms are beautiful.

Your stomach is beautiful. The skin is stretched around your third child and will stretch even more over the next few weeks. The rivers run red and silver over it, memories of the months they held your other two babies. Your belly button is stretched beyond recognition; you once dreamed a teenager's dream of showing it off with a cute navel ring, but now you wish it would just stop showing through every shirt you wear. And you know what's coming next, the saggy belly, the pouch that jiggles with each heartbeat, the same one that made you cry out of sheer shock as you showered after the birth of your oldest. You'd known all about cracked breastfeeding nipples and sleepless nights and how to relieve the tenderness down there, but no one had prepared you for the sight of your post-birth belly.

But oh, that stomach. It has safely cradled your babies for twenty-six months so far, wrapping them in a blanket of security and warmth. It was once home to your lanky growing boy and your silly wide-eyed toddler. It now serves as their comforting pillow. Your husband admires its various curves. It holds you steady as you hold steady to your boys. It is your core - weak, stretched, scarred, and saggy, but beautiful most of all.

Your feet are beautiful. A long scar lines each of them from a childhood surgery. Like your hands, they are swollen; like the rest of your body, they are tired. But these are the feet that lead the way as your ducklings follow. They walk to the park, the forest, the library. They pace the room as you murmur comforting words to an upset child. They chase (slowly these days) boys with more energy than you can recall ever having. They follow paths both familiar and new. Your feet are beautiful.

Your legs are beautiful. You don't think so; you recently caught an unexpected glimpse of your thighs and stopped, shocked, wondering where those dimples had come from. You used to run and dance, years of cross-country and ballet and track & field and acrobatics. You danced right up until you became pregnant with your first child. You still dance, but now it's the slow circles of a tired mother rocking an even more tired baby, or the silly waltzing of mother and son dancing around the kitchen as they listen to their favourite music. You still run, but it's to scoop up your child and cover his giggling self in kisses. Your legs become seats when you sit down, a lap in constant use by little boys who just like to be close to you, Mommy. Your legs are beautiful.

Your nose is beautiful. You had never even questioned such until the day a boy told you that you were beautiful even though your nose was so big. It was the first time you'd been told that you had a big nose. You ignored the beautiful part but never forgot the part about your nose; you simply accepted the news as fact and incorporated it into your identity. But now that nose buries itself deep in your children's hair and inhales their sweet scent. It breathes in the comforting smell of your husband's Irish Spring soap. It brings the smell of clean rain, salty ocean, hot pavement, sweaty children, and scented flowers. It tickles your babies' necks and they reward you with gales of laughter. Your nose is beautiful.

Your brain is beautiful. Sometimes you feel inferior; you don't know much about this topic, you don't write often about that topic. You forget things too easily. Your mind is not filled with the endless trivia of your encyclopedic husband. You wonder what good your perspective is in this world. But that brain of yours? You use it. You refuse to be told what to think, valuing instead the ability to think. You question and search and dig deeper because you thirst always for authentic understanding. You form your own opinions, holding tightly enough to not be swayed by every challenge that comes your way but not so tightly as to stubbornly ignore new knowledge. You follow your passions. As for days passed, you may not remember everything, but you've got the important things covered; those memories are treasures indeed. Your brain is beautiful.

Your voice is beautiful. Like so many others, you cringe when you hear your recorded voice. Surely you don't sound like that, you think. But it is that same voice that calmly soothes your children as they sob into your shoulder. It is that same voice that they request over and over - sing another one, Mommy! It is that same voice, steady and familiar, that reads them book after endless book. It is that same voice that brings them back to center when they need it. And it is that same voice that makes your husband smile when he hears it, that binds the two of you even closer as you talk into the darkness of the late night. Your voice is beautiful.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. There is nothing to gain from self-loathing, from desiring an artificial air-brushed body over the scarred and weathered one you have earned over the years. Embrace what is, each moment, because you will only continue to gather the badges of life with each passing decade. This is good.

With love,

Linking up with SheLoves...

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Witnessing Love

It has been a little quiet around here lately, hasn't it? My beautiful sister-in-law got married this weekend - married! - so I drove up last week with the boys and my growing belly to be here for the big day.

Every single one of those 12 hours in the car were entirely worth it to witness such magic.

And hey, you know me - I'm here navel-gazing the whole time, thinking about marriage and husbands and love and frustrations and all the ups and downs of the whole messy thing.

Because the husband had to stay behind and work for a couple more days, the boys and I were here alone until he flew up to join us. Two days of fielding questions alone, the same repeated series of questions from family, extended family, family friends, people I've met but don't know, and people I have never met in my life. Two days of guests and preparations and conversations and solo parenting in a home that isn't mine.

And even though I absolutely adore every one of the ten in-laws that either live here or came in from out of town for the wedding, those two days were all it took for me to intensely feel the absence of my own husband.

I really really missed him.

And then he (finally) got here and greeted me with a vague side hug and didn't notice my newly-cut hair and headed downstairs to watch sports with the men without giving me so much as a peck on the cheek and suddenly I couldn't remember why I had missed him at all.

That's marriage for you. Sometimes, anyway.

But it's so much more, too. Once he was here, I felt grounded again. Here was my pillar, my support, my buffer, my anchor. Here was a strong hand in mine, a comforting arm around my back, a knowing gaze, a silent conversation. Here was someone I could always seek out in a crowd, someone I could join without feeling like I was intruding. Here was the one beside whom I could face the world.

And more. Here was the one who helps carry the burdens of our life together, both big and small. Somehow it's the small things that seem to mean the most - the way he brushes the boys' teeth because I hate the sensation; the way he phones on his way home to see if I need anything; the way he brings me water or makes me tea or any of the other countless ways he seeks to serve me and help me. Sometimes we're selfish or ignorant or thoughtless, but always the desire is to serve one another, submit to one another, consider the other's needs and wants and thoughts and perspectives.

And oh, those perspectives. Marriage is endless discovery. I know him and yet I don't, because there's always more. He knows me and yet he is often surprised, adding another piece to the puzzle that is the woman he married.

I remember the days after our marriage, hiding away in what was now our condo, both of us in a state of perpetual joyous awe. We had gotten married; how insanely lucky were we? I felt a (perhaps odd) sense of relief over the finality of it all. Of course nothing is certain, but we were young newlyweds; tragedy was the farthest thing from our minds at that moment. Instead we found comfort in the security of our vows.

That sense of comforting security has yet to leave. He knows both the best and the worst parts of me, and yet he continues to love me. Like motherhood, marriage has significantly deepened my understanding of God's love for His people. My husband sees my deepest flaws and yet he loves me anyway. God knows my heart, my inner thoughts, and yet He loves me anyway. It is the most humbling thing I know of, to be loved anyway.

Humbling. Out of all else, it is that single word that stands out as describing marriage. It has been for me a source of both great joy and deep fury. It has been a continual lesson in holding loosely to expectations, letting go of all that I thought marriage should look like and embracing instead the uniqueness that is the two of us. It has been a steady refining of my understanding of what it means to be my husband's ezer kenegdo, his valiant ally who opposes in wrong and supports in righteousness.

Nothing is quite what I pictured when I said I will, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

To my beautiful sister-in-law and my new brother-in-law:

May you be blessed with wisdom, patience, and understanding.
May you continually learn more about each other,
growing closer as you work together.
May you be compassionate,
placing the other before yourself and doing everything in love.

We love you guys.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Letting go of the checklist

It started with joy.

Only it wasn't.

It was JOY in capitals, JOY the acronym, JOY which meant Jesus --> Others --> You.

Jesus first, always Jesus, and then look to the needs of others. When those needs are met, if there's anything left in you, then go ahead and indulge in caring for your own needs. Quickly though; soon enough, it will be time to start at the top again. Jesus. Others. You.

Then I got older, joined the ranks of married women, of mothers. JOY wasn't enough anymore; now it was a very specific order:
  1. God
  2. Husband
  3. Children
  4. Others
  5. You
It didn't have a cheerful little acronym to go along with it, but who needed one? I came across it everywhere. Always it would begin with a brief nod to God being our ultimate priority. This was followed by a stern reminder that we as wives were under our husband's authority, and we were to serve him and meet his needs above all others. Keep him happy to keep him holy.

With that in mind, our children were given the next prioritization. After all, motherhood was a woman's greatest calling (whatever that meant for the unwed or childless among us, and however that fit with being ranked #3 on our list of priorities). We were raising up the next generation of great Christian leaders; it was imperative that we tend to them after our husbands. Always, though, impress upon them the fact that we esteemed our husbands above them. They must know which relationship we prioritized.

Once the needs of home and family were cared for, it was time to turn outwards. Meet the needs of others. Volunteer, serve, get involved. Tend to the children's ministry. Bake cookies. Visit the sick and the elderly. Sign up for this, that, and the other. Sometimes this step was broken down more specifically (such as "extended family, church, work, others"), but the idea was the same. Others others others.

At last would come the obligatory closing: you have needs too, so find time to meet them. Just be sure it's done after your obligations to God, your husband, your children, and everyone else.

That, I read over and over, was to be the order of my life. A nice tidy checklist, simple to follow and indisputable in its order of importance. Check, check, check, top to bottom. God husband children others you.

If only life were so linear.

I tried, for a time, to fit into this Good Christian mold. A bit of prayer time or Scripture reading and check, first thing off my list. Next I'd ask my husband if there was anything he needed. Being an extraordinarily unneedy person, he'd usually just give me a curious look, a shrug, and an easy pass to go on with my day. Another check, although I'd spend my day hyper-focused on his needs, determined to meet them whenever they may finally arrive. I'd worry if dinner wasn't perfect or if I fell behind in laundry or if heaven forbid the child was being too much of an "inconvenience" to him.

The rest of the day was spent tending to our firstborn (check). When he was asleep, I'd take care of whatever external obligations had built up over the day (check). Finally, it was time to meet my needs...usually by falling into bed exhausted. What other needs could I afford besides food and sleep?

I am immeasurably grateful that this pattern was short lived. Soon, through an unexpected string of events, I began my journey towards a more intentional way of life. It wasn't enough anymore to simply unquestioningly do what was expected of me. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know if it truly had any firm foundation. I began to dig deeper and in doing so I came to a more holistic, authentic, and life-giving understanding of God than I'd ever had before.

Lacking in both logic and biblical backing, the ladder of priorities was one of the first constructs to go. Life was not so simplistic and compartmentalized; life was messy and interconnected and beautifully so. Life was not a checklist, a hierarchy, a ladder, or a straight line. It was circular, it ebbed and flowed, it changed with the seasons and the needs and the joys and the challenges. It demanded balance and give-and-take, not ranks and tidy checks on a list.

Although I didn't have words for it at the time, I soon found myself embracing a more circular view of my priorities. Instead of simply being the first item to check off in my day, God became the center and source of everything, with the things close to my heart radiating outwards like the spokes of a wheel. God was part of all areas of my life; it was all worship when done as worship.

With the checklist gone, I began to learn how to weave my priorities into the everyday fabric of my life. Everything connected, overlapped, and somehow worked together. My time with God was no longer required to be independent of my time with my children. We lived those relationships together and God was everywhere, in all of it, in our songs and our discussions and our praises and our activities. My husband, too, became part of it all; even when he was away, I sought to honour him and consider his needs and desires, not out of obligation as a subordinate but out of love as his ezer kenegdo, his valiant ally. Others, too, became part of our everyday lives, all of us living life together.

We don't always get it right, but the freedom found in letting go of the rankings has allowed us an authenticity we didn't have when I was trying to separate life into ordered compartments. Sometimes needs arise in one area and demand precedence over other areas. We embrace that and work with it rather than trying to force it into its proper rung on the ladder, ignoring it until the higher rungs are taken care of. As long as we allow God to be at the center and everything else to radiate out from Him, things seem to fall into place.

Everything is from Him and through Him and for Him; He alone makes everything good.