A whole bunch of books and a salad dressing recipe. Because I like you.

photo copy

I’m sure I’m not alone (famous last words of someone who, in fact, is alone?!) when I say that the changing seasons makes me pour my nose more deeply into good, rich words.  When the crisp comes to the air and the cardigans embrace my shoulders I want nothing more than to curl up with a book.  This season has me in a number of them but I’ve been so thrilled with my reading selection as of late that I thought I should go back and share the last few in case you need some to add to your library reserve list.

This summer I finished two of Jeanette Walls books that I hadn’t gotten to yet.  I adored The Glass Castle when I was lent it some time ago (oh my word, I still have it!  I’m a bad returner.  Janet, I owe you a book and a coffee…or 4…)  I was drawn to the perfectly descriptive and quirky memoir, the tales too outrageous to be real, and yet, here they were as real and as heart warming as ever.  Her characters were instant faves in my mind and I just hadn’t gotten to her other two books yet.  Until the summer.  They were perfect summer reads.  Her writing is just lovely and draws you into the lives of these part beloved and part hooligan-esque creatures.  I started with Half-Broke Horses and moved on to The Silver Star.  I can’t decide which I like best so I’ll just tell you to read them all.  Also, Costco has them for under $10 so you really have no excuse.  Buy them for yourself for a stocking stuffer.  Or borrow them from Janet.  I mean, once I give it back to her.  Cause apparently she doesn’t get mad about you not returning stuff you borrow from her.

photo

I’ve been making my way slowly through Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, only because I don’t want it to end.  Each chapter has the most beautiful words written about her life and about food and about sharing both around the table.  Plus there’s recipes!  It’s glorious.  If you have a desire to open your home up in hospitality and need a little nudge to do so, read this book.  Our home is already a revolving door and there’s no place everyones sits in our place but around the table and still her words breathe fresh life into my soul and new recipes into my repertoire!

Unknown-1

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this about other books before but with each new one I read my list of favourites gets longer.  Tattoos on the Heart is my favourite.  I want to tweet quotes on every second page.  I have highlighted and dog eared more pages than is good for anyone.  I’m 20 pages from finished and I already want to read it again.  There is beautiful insight mixed into the memories of living life alongside gang members on the streets of LA.  There is compassion beyond compare.  Thus, there is conviction beyond compare.  Gregory Boyle may lead a radical life but the intricate moments he shares make my heart swoon.  I’ll leave you with just one longish one because it’s the last one I highlighted, not because it’s the best.  Who can pick a best in a book like this?

Twenty years of this work has taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do.  What is success and what is failure?  What is good and what is bad?  Setback or progress?  Great stock these days, especially in nonprofits, is placed in evidence-based outcomes.  People funders in particular, want to know if what you do, “works.”  Are you, in the end, successful?  Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa’s take: “We are not called to be successful, but faithful.”  This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback.  You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward.  You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle.  God intends it to be, I think.  For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burdens than they can bear, all bets seem off.  Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever’s sitting in front of you.  Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day.  If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God’s business.  I find it hard enough to just be faithful.

Amen, brother.  Amen.

I was at a women’s thingie at our church a bit ago (I know!!!)  and a beautiful woman with children a bit older than mine recommended a book to our table.  She said, by way of encouragement, that we just need to take our children’s struggles and very lives to God in prayer.  How else can we do this parenting schtick?  None of us is smart enough, capable enough, with it enough, long-tempered enough to ensure that our kids will turn out just the way we want.  However, we do have a great God who is in control of all things and who listens to the prayers of His children.  I was convicted at my lack of prayer for my children.  I mean, yes, I pray with them and for them daily but the depth to which Stormie Omartian’s book The Power of a Praying Parent has taken my prayers is a game changer.  She prays things for her children I never in a thousand years would think to.  She offers scripture to pray over our children that would have never come to my mind.  Her insight is powerful and fantastic and has changed the entire way that I pray both with and for my kids.  I’m so thankful for this book even though I’m only halfway through.  It might be my new baby shower gift.  Is that lame and old, churchy lady like of me?  Probably.  And I don’t care.

With the munchkins over the summer we read The Magician’s Elephant which fast became their new favourite book.  (The apple doesn’t fall far…)  We loved Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Desperaux (Read the book, people!  Don’t just see the movie!) and so when we saw this new book by her we instantly snatched it up.  The reviews on the front of, “stories to snuggle up with on evenings or at christmas time…” made me love it before I even opened it.  But the fantastical story made us all fall in love with Peter Duchene and all the other quirky characters that are nearly always called by their full names, like how we refer to our friends from elementary school.  Just me?

Unknown

And finally, after we finished that one the boys and I moved onto A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.  I chose this one specifically, not that it’s the most comforting nighttime read aloud story, but because my boys are at an age where shooting things seems fun.  They want video games that blow stuff up and in the woods they like to hide and pretend they’re at war.  As a girl, I struggle to understand their need for violence though the more scripture I read and the more battle ready language I breathe in there, the more I’m grasping their intrinsic need to wage war.  Perhaps not in the shoot ‘em up way, but in the dying to self sort of way.  Moving on from that tangent….I wanted them to see that guns and fighting and war is not glamourous.  It’s not something that only happens in movies, but that its something that is real and happening in our world right now.  To children.  It’s destroying lives of people they would be friends with should they live next door.  And so, enter this book about a 12 year old boy whose life was rocked by war in Sierra Leone.  It’s graphic and harsh but at my boys age they can take it and are being gripped by this boys life who is the same age as them.

What are you reading?  Have you grabbed anything off the shelf lately that’s rocked your world?

Oh, speaking of rocking your world, I’m going to leave you with this salad dressing recipe.  ‘Cause it will rock your world.  It rocked ours for our Thanksgiving dinner.  You’ll be so happy you tried it.  You’re welcome!!

Recipe found here.  I used goat cheese instead of bleu but that’s the only change I made.  Taste buds watering yet?

no matter whatness.

photo

I sat around my kitchen the table this morning with friends who, should you have asked, I would have said would never sit around my table all together again.  The world has pulled us apart as we follow dreams and calls and logic would have told our minds that this would never work.  But what does logic know, anyways?

Because this morning as 4 friends gathered it didn’t matter that we hadn’t planned this.  It didn’t matter that we hadn’t coordinated the trips for months, because we hadn’t.  We didn’t bust out our daytimers and work this into our agendas.  Instead, God.  He orchestrated this moment and the crossing of paths and timetables and flights in and out of town.  Let’s be honest, we couldn’t have pulled it off and we didn’t need to because He did and it was a gift and on this eve of Thanksgiving weekend all I can do is offer up thanks.

Sometimes the best things are unplanned.  Outside of our grasp.  Beyond our control.  Ask me 2 weeks ago if this morning could have happened and I would have laughed.  Just goes to show you I may have a bit of Sarah in me.  I’m not sure she meant to laugh at God.  It’s just that some things seem ridiculous.  Beyond our scope.  And they are!  We just forget that they’re not outside of his.

And then suddenly 4 friends are scooping yogurt and granola into bowls and sipping steamy cups of bold coffee and laughing and crying and everything in between and we whisper our thanks.  Because this moment was orchestrated long ago.  It was deemed necessary by One who knows we needed it.  Who knew the very conversation and coffee and connectedness was treading on holy ground territory.

We’re made for community.  You know that by now, right?

Lord knows I’ve mentioned it a time or two.  or seven.  or eight.

I had a moment of sadness this afternoon.  Not because I had to hug my friends goodbye or because I had the fleeting thought that this may never happen again and why for the love of Instagram did noone take a picture, but because some people don’t have this.  It made me sad that some people are sitting in their homes right now feeling alone.  Disconnected.  Craving something that they may not even be sure could possibly exist.

I want to tell you that it does.

I also want to tell you that it doesn’t come easy.

These women were here at my table today because we’ve fought.  Like, actually.  We’ve disagreed and challenged and spoke the words, “That’s just not okay.”  We’ve whispered words to each other that we didn’t ever think we’d speak out loud.  We’ve shared secrets that we were sure would go with us to the grave.  We’ve opened up a part of our lives to each other that was scary to tap into.  We’ve asked each other hard questions and waited in awkward silence for the answer.  We’ve dug into parts that got messy.  We’ve made each other cry with our prying and our insight.  We’ve made each other laugh with just the same.  We’ve flowed freely between fashion and following the call of Christ.  Grade 4 bullies and deep passions.  Identity and worth and favourite chai recipes.  It all happens around the table and it’s all as important as the next because this is what life is.  It’s not all dire moments and deep secrets.  It’s equally footwear choices and ooh’ing and aah’ing over the beauty of each others babies.  It’s all sacred ground.

I want to tell you that there’s only one reason we can live the deep and the hard and the ugly together.  It’s because the common theme is love.  Like, the real deal kind of love.  The kind that can ask you something tough and you know they only want you to answer because they love you and they want your good.  The kind that can challenge your view on politics or school systems and no one gets angry because love comes first and the challenge only comes because of love.  Out of love.  Not selfish ambition or conceit.  Not arrogance or pride.  But love.  The underlying notion that I want your good and you want mine.  Nothing more.  And never anything less.

I waxed nostalgic for awhile about how this rag tag group came to call each other friends.  I don’t know if there was a moment where it happened.  Where it became official and all of that.  But what I do know is that each one of us looked at the other with eyes of acceptance.  With eyes that said yes.  You are welcome here.  With your practical footwear and artistic spirit.  With your quiet wisdom and secondhand scores.  With your tattoos and your need for silence sometimes and even with your love of Big Turk.  Yes, you are different than I am.  Yes, you have different thoughts and opinions.  Yes.  Yes, you are welcome with all of that.  With every fibre of who you are I want you here.  Never I’m better.  Never I’m more right.  Never you just don’t cut it.

I had this dream today.  This dream that we would look at each other like this.  You and me.  You and the person standing next to you at school pick up.  Me and the person behind me in the grocery store line.  You and your neighbour.  Me and mine.  That we would drop the need to make ourselves feel important or right or better and that instead we would simply look into each others eyes, all eyes, and say you are welcome here.  Just as you are.  Please don’t try and be like me, the world certainly doesn’t need more me’s.  And I’m not going to try and be like you.  Instead, can we be who we were made to be and look at each other with love?

I think we can.

We can if we understand that the heart of God is love and we’re called to love as He did.  To love in a way that says I’m not here to fix you or change you or tweak you to suit me better but to open our arms and embrace each other in the same way God does to us.  In a way that says you are accepted.  You are loved.  Not when you get it together.  Not when you finally have all the answers.  But right now.  Always. No matter what.

This Thanksgiving weekend I’m thankful for so many things.  Today, especially,  its for friends who love me with the no-matter-whatness of God.

Asking for help: Why it’s wise and not weak.

It took me until I had 3 rug rats under the age of 4 before I realized I was not, in fact, super mom.  With one I was fine and I could do all things.  With two I was slightly frazzled but by days end could accomplish all that needed to be.  With three?  Forgetaboutit.

I remember the horrible feeling.  I remember the dashed pride.  I remember looking at my husband and saying, “Help?”

It’s not that he didn’t help.  Not that at all!  He did.  He worked hard and played with the kids when he got home.  He would chuck them in the bath and get them jammied up.  He did all of the things that he saw that there was to do.  It was the things that he didn’t see that I needed help with though.

Like the floors haven’t been vaccumed in weeks and the laundry hamper is spilling over and the ring in the bathtub is probably never coming out at this point.  It wasn’t just the loading and unloading of dishwasher that I needed help with, it was all of it.  I needed help with all of it.

Help to feel sane and help to rock babies and help with choosing immunization schedules and pre-schools and how to celebrate their birthdays.  I needed help mending the owies and soothing young souls and teaching all the things that humans need to know to 3 little people.

I was at my end and I realized that if I kept going at this pace I would crumble.  So I whispered the words in the form of a question.  Help?

How silly it is of us to think that people will see us as weak when we ask for help.  How silly it is for us to think that people will judge and look down and mutter things like, “well, maybe you shouldn’t have had so many kids if you can’t handle it!”  How ridiculous that we feel less than adequate for not being able to accomplish every single thing involving our own souls as well as the very lives of many little humans all on our own.

It’s nonsense, I tell you!  So stop it!

Since those early days of realizing my need for more than myself to do this thing I have come to love the phrase, “It takes a tribe.”  Because it does.  Literally.

But we don’t live in the jungle and we aren’t all gathered for shared meals every day.  Instead, we live in the Western World where individualism is hailed as king and neediness makes you weak.  We have our own houses and make our own meals and will make our own decisions involving everything our kids do.  We don’t like to rely on anyone for anything or we feel like we may have to repay the favour and nobody wants THAT hanging over their head.

I can’t help but think we’ve got it all wrong though, this individualistic way of life.  That it only breeds arrogance and pride.  Judgement and loneliness. We were made for community.  Even in the early days of scripture there was always an ‘us’.  There was the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  There was only Adam but then really soon after there was Eve.  There was family and community and the bond of relationship.  This is what our souls long for, how we function best, in short, what we need!

So why are we so afraid to ask for help when we need it?  I can only assume it’s our pride.

Yesterday I got three different text messages that made my heart swoon.  That reinforced our need for each other.  That reminded me that we are not in this thing alone.  That we’re all in it in different ways and different seasons but we need each other exactly every single day.

The first one said something along the lines of, I can’t believe I’m telling you this but….  The second was an update on a diagnosis of a beautiful boy.  Yes.  Autistic.  Here we go.  The third a simple and slightly panicked, help!  My daughter needs to be at work in 20 minutes and I’m no where near home, can you take her?

All of which require only one answer.  Yes.  I know.  We’re here.  We’ve been there.  It’s awful and it’s wonderful.  God has you.  God has this.  I’ve got your back.  Yes.  Yes I can help and yes I will pray and yes it’s going to be so hard.  Yes.  We are here for you for the bigs and the smalls and the everything in betweens.  We’re here for the emotional wilderness and the overwhelmed, I think I’m going to vomit, moments and the quick fixes of hopping in a car for 10 minutes.  Yes.  Yes.  A thousand times, yes!!

Because it takes a tribe.

I realized during this day that what I saw in each of these friends, tribe members if you will, reaching out is how strong they are.  I didn’t for a second view one of them as weak for not having it quite all together in a way that we sometimes feel we must.  Instead it drew me closer to them in love because I realized that on many of my days I feel just the same and it’s okay cause they do too.  I realized that it takes guts to ask for help and here they are so brave.  I realized how each of these women have been their for me on a thousand different occasions and I rejoiced in the fact that today I could be there for them.  Because tribes can’t be one-sided.  Community isn’t formed by only one person giving all the time and the other taking.  It’s  built on a recognition that I need you and you need me.  It’s built on a foundation of knowing that without each other we’d fall apart.  Without each other we’d throw up our hands and crawl under the covers and feel the burden of these enormous weights all alone and we would all be so much worse off if that were the case.

Instead there were whispers of help.  Moments of this is heavy and I need you.  Admissions that I don’t know what to do here.

It was beautiful and holy.  It was surrender and humility.  It was my people, my tribe.

I hope you have a tribe.  I hope you have people.  If you don’t, I encourage you to be the one to step out first.  Ask for help.  Admit weakness.  Be vulnerable.  There are people out there who are willing, oh so willing to help.  There are people out their who desire community as much as you.  There are people who want to serve you and pray for you and talk through the hard things with you.  But sometimes you have to go first.  Cause why should they, y’know?

Be brave in admitting you need someone, sisters.  We all do.  Because it really does take a tribe.

Identity. Who are you, anyways?

 

photo copy 4

(Who am I?  Rhonda.  Slightly blurry girl who curls her hair even when camping.  Saved by grace.)

I asked my boy the other day what it means to be a christian.  Sadly, he rattled off everything that I didn’t want him to say.  He said things like, someone who goes to church and someone who reads the bible and does all the things that God tells us to do.  He said that it’s someone who is loving and kind and who learns memory verses.

Nope.

How do you explain that while those are things that we may do as a result of being a christian, these are not the things that make us a christian.

For a long time I wouldn’t call myself a photographer but rather just someone who likes to take pictures.  People would stare at me in confusion, tilt their head slightly to one side as they tried to figure out the riddle.  But there was no coy answer or smart comeback on my part.  I just didn’t identify with being a photographer, which in my head was someone who has taken classes and honed the art and knew what every f-stop would do precisely.  And that wasn’t me.  I just liked to take pictures.

My boy has simply taken his cues from me.  It’s not his fault.  He’s heard me say that I’m not a photographer because I don’t know all the things and I didn’t study under the greats and I’ve never been in National Geographic and ….and….and….

So clearly it only makes sense in his mind that in order to be a christian there must be a list of things that we need to check off, to accomplish, to achieve before we can hail ourselves with the title.  Church?  check.  Bible study?  check.  Memory verses filed somewhere back there in our mind?  check.  Kind to someone today?  check.

Except that’s not it at all.

Those things no more make me a christian than one has to be published to call yourself a photographer.  Those aren’t the things that make you one.  They’re the things that may come as a result of you being one.  Do you see the difference?

In this season of my life, this theme of identity has been swirling around like the autumn leaves caught up in the wind.  Caught in the cyclic rhythm of do this, don’t do this, no – he is enough.  do this, don’t do this, no – he is enough.

At first it was all the things I should be doing and the guilt and shame that come with not having them in my life.  I’m not part of an organized bible study.  I should do that.  check!  I need to adopt babies because that’s what the scripture says.  Go!  Social justice, that’s what I’m lacking.  Find an organization helping the underprivileged and do that.  Big fat gold star!

Slowly and painfully, for our hearts don’t change easily and our hearts don’t mend quickly and our grasp on our ways is much too tight, these things started being pulled from my grasping fingers.  The bible study had to go with changing schedules.  The adoption didn’t pan out and the foster parent papers didn’t even get the dignity of a return phone call.

One by one God has plucked all these ‘need to’s’ from my hands.  He’s left me standing before Him empty.  No social justice notch on my belt.  No rescued baby in my arms.  He’s left me in this place of crying out, “What then?  If not these what?  What should I do?  What am I to be?  Aren’t I suppose to…?”

Time and time again He’s beckoned my heart, weary from all the trying, back to simply Him and said, “Just me.  Only me.  I am enough.

It makes the tears come even to think that I get so wrapped up, so busy, so do-goodery, that I forget that He is enough.  It cracks open the crevices of my heart that want to make it about me and look at this and see what I’m doing and brings me to my knees in repentance knowing that it’s not our works that He desires but our hearts.  It’s not all the things we can do or give, for truly what can we give the one who made it all?  How can we repay a debt that can never be repaid?  So easily the heart slips into the law and penance and even some weird version of karma when these aren’t the things He says we ought to be.

So it’s not the going to church or the bible study or eating organic or purchasing from socially responsible organizations that He wants.  It’s not the hybrid car or the feeding the poor or the youth group perfect attendance award that will earn us a spot in heaven.

It is always and only by grace.  Not earned.  Never earned.  It is free and unmerited.  It is a gift, and not the weird kind where you’ve been given something great so you must panic and pace the mall and search the online stores in order to return the favour.

It’s the kind of gift that is so far above anything you could give or anything you could earn that the only response to it is to humbly utter thank-you’s.  We can never, on our own, be what is required or do all that we ought to earn favour and the beauty is that’s not what he wants.  In fact, he calls those works filthy rags in comparison to what he’s done.

He wants our hearts not our chores.  He wants our worship not our work.  He wants us to know that He is all we need and everything else pales in comparison.

So, I’m not a regular bible study attender or a mama to many or an advocate to the poor just now, maybe I never will be.

But my identity is found in Him and not in those things.  My position is redeemed by His blood, not by the work of my hands.  My title is not adoptive parent or volunteer or teacher or anything but saved by grace.  It’s in this position I find all that I need and my struggling heart finds rest.

The things that books can’t teach

I like to be early.  Arriving late makes my heart pound and my blood pressure rise and I feel all kinds of anxiousness.  So I’m a clock watcher and a minute counter and I know when we need to walk out, not to be on time, but to be early.  So when I bellow, “Let’s go or we’ll be late!”  Not one member of my family kicks into high gear because they know we won’t actually be late.  We may just be less early.  Or even right on time.

This morning I checked the clock and stated to a certain munchkin who likes to push all boundaries that he better start eating his breakfast.  His retort, “Who made you the mom around here?”

There was a time I would have lectured on this.  Talked about using our words to encourage and about kindness and respect.  But the first born got all of that and with the third I simply shake my head and laugh and muss up his hair because he’s not being disrespectful or rude.  He said it with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye and he was only looking for a reaction so I might playfully swat his bum or tickle him until he takes it back.

Books don’t teach you this stuff, the difference between your first born and third.  They don’t lay out for you how your heart will change and your ways will mellow with subsequent kids.  They don’t tell you that all that was so important the first time around can shift.

I know this because when I first found out I was pregnant I bought all of the books.  All of them.  Of course there were the standards.  The What to Expects and all that but also biology books.  I had one entire book that was just beautiful pictures of what was going on inside my body from week to week.  Pictures showing little additions to my growing baby but started with simple cell splitting.  I loved every page of it.

I do this with everything.  Some people learn by asking questions, others through trial and error and I learn by reading.

So, when I want to cook better meals I read all of the reviews on every cook book on Amazon and then I order a whole bunch and I read them cover to cover.  And when I want to reduce the amount of chemicals that are in my home I spend hours (days?!) online bookmarking every website that has good information on toxins and how we can reduce these by making our own more natural products.  I google organics and herbs and read about green juices and how grapefruit can clean your shower and how to mix just the right essential oils to heal everything.  And when I want to be inspired I pick up a biography about people who lived through the hard and persevered and came through it all with great strength of character.  And when I want to know the in’s and out’s of culture I pick of Jean Twenge or Douglas Coupland and I read and read and read the words that they have to say because they study this stuff and, whether in pie chart or novel form, they offer insight.

Problem is, after spending a bajillion hours reading, after investing so much time, I still haven’t placed a better dinner before my family or mixed up a vinegar concoction to clean the toilet.

I picked up Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine the other day and I just kept nodding my head through the reading of it.  There are very few books that I’ve found where I somehow feel like the author got into my brain and put into words what I was already thinking.  This is this book.  Only she says it more eloquently than my brain likely would.

“But then you find yourself standing at a bar or kneeling in the dirt of holding a very sharp chef’s knife and you realize all at once that it doesn’t matter what you’ve read or seen or think you know.  You learn it, really learn it, with your hands.  With your fingers and your knife, your nose and your ears, your tongue and your muscle memory, learning as you go.”

I do the same with my faith.  When I want to learn about prayer I buy a book and when I want to know more about fasting I read hundreds of pages on it and when I want to dig in to angels or divorce or healing or justice or love or the gift of grace I read and I read and I read.

I’ve found however, that though this is good, it can’t stop there.  Because if I only read about prayer but never actually get down on my knees and cry out to the Lord then I will never actually understand it.  And if I read all that there is to say about fasting but never feel the rumbling of my stomach or the longing of my soul then all the words on the page are just that, words on a page.  And if I read all that has ever been written about the poor or the oppressed or the orphans or the trafficked or the slaves or the weak but I never actually open my heart and my hands to see, to hear, to get a taste then all I have is knowledge.

God is stirring something in me that is pushing me to go beyond the books.  He’s kneading my heart with his hands, pushing out the air bubbles of knowledge, deflating the work the yeast of books has done and forming it into what he wants.  I don’t know if his plan is for bread or for buns or for croissants but I do know that He’s asking me to go beyond the books and put knowledge into action and head into hands and what I know from the pages into what I know in my heart.

Because the book couldn’t tell me that my third child would be cheeky and feisty and that I’d love him for it.  In the same way the books can’t tell me what it feels like to get down on my knees or to dig in with my hands or to smell the air of a foreign country.  They can’t tell me what the smiles of orphans will do to a heart or what the hunger will do in my soul or what the cries to the Almighty will do for the people I love.

I’m not giving up the books, I assure you.  But I’m also not stopping there.

My kids changed my ideals.

Someone once said to me, “But,”  and  he had to start with a but because Lord knows I was arguing with the ferocity of a 20 something, “the more people you meet, the more people you see, the more you realize that all you can do is love.”

I thought he was a heretic.

Because I had 20 year old passion and ideals.  Oh, the ideals.

(Now, 20 year olds – keep having all of the ideals because we need them.  We need your passion and fervour and drive!)

Here’s the thing I didn’t think I’d ever find myself saying.  He’s right.

I remember, before we had kids, knowing exactly how I would parent.   I would watch people parent around me and I would start a tally of all the things I was never going to do.  Of course, there were some things I would do, but mostly all the things I wasn’t.  I sat and judged every parent within my view and saw all of the ways that they were failing their children.  Thing is, I didn’t know yet about sleep deprivation and living breathing babies that hold your heart.

So MY babies were going to sleep through the night and colic was only something that bad mothers made up and sugar was off limits and never, ever, ever would my kids be allowed to wear those light up shoes.  I was going to say no constantly because they needed to learn this.  I was going to be in control because I was the parent.  I was going to skip merrily along through this parenting thing doing it just the right way.

What I didn’t realize was that where hearts and souls and living, breathing beings were at stake, there is no just the right way.

Of course, God himself knew just the way to break me from my judgemental self.   He, humorously, gave me 3 boys.  This, my friends, was one of the greatest gifts ever given because God saw fit to snap me out of my idealogies and show me that these pooping, burping, farting creatures were His.  He showed me that the noise and the messy and the stink, they didn’t always fit my perfect way of doing it.

He showed me that their hearts were more important than my ideals.

It started with a bang when the littlest was born.  We had a grand total of 6 hours peace in the hospital and then my memory goes sort of fuzzy.  Because boy would not stop crying.  Ever.

I won’t lie, I thought this boy would be easy.  I’d had 2 already and I was in my groove and quite simply, I was rocking this mothering gig.  I’d just do exactly what I did with the others.

Ideals.

But nothing worked with this one.  He cried when he was put down and he cried when he was held.  He cried on breast milk and formula and soothers. (Yes, we tried that one with that certain nipple.  Get over yourself, it didn’t work!)  He cried when we were home and he cried in the car and he cried when we were outside walking about.  He cried in the grocery store and some lady had the nerve to ask if I was pinching him.  Yes, I told her harshly, I am PINCHING my baby!  He cried and I cried and my heart was hurting because it wasn’t working.  I’d lost my skills.  I didn’t know how to mother this one.

He changed the game and made up his own rules and hid the manual on how to play.

Oh the things God was teaching me early on.  It didn’t take skills to be a mother, it took love.  Because no mother who loves well is going to harm her child or feed her child less than the best or do everything she knows how to do to nurture that child.  Anyone can skillfully heat a bottle but only love let that baby curl up on my chest and, through the tears, cry out for more love.  More grace.  More patience.

He stopped eventually and we navigated the toddler years.  I’m an expert toddler mom, in case you were wondering.  You can control them with Cheerios, for crying out loud!  So, I found my groove through control.  Controlling naptimes and meal schedules, play dates and what they would wear.  Controlling the words they spoke (“say thank-you!”  “Ask nicely” “Tell him you’re sorry!”), the sugar they ingested, the hours of sleep they got and just how much screen time was permitted.  (One 20 minute episode of Elmo per day, thank you very much!)

Here’s what I learned about my human heart though, it only  took a matter of months to forget the thing that I was taught so clearly.  So that crying baby who showed me that my mothering ideals weren’t THE way and I clearly didn’t have all THE answers and that I couldn’t do this on my own strength – yeah, I forgot those.  Instead I prided myself on polite boys who ate their veggies and prayed each night for, “Gumma and Bumpa”.

Guys, it went further.  I also wasn’t going to be one of THOSE parents whose boys played with guns and footballs and were so stereotypical you could smell the locker room on them.  So I bought them an anatomically correct boy doll.  I know, I know.  Someone give me a medal.  And we painted and picked flowers and learned about dinosaurs and bugs.  We listened to real music and not the kind sang creepily to children by adults dressed in strange clothes and face paint.  We didn’t own weaponry of any sort until Grandpa (always the rule breaker) came over with water guns one day and I insisted that they call them ‘water squirters’ and not guns.  Like that changed anything.

It’s amazing to me how many times I have to be taught the same thing.  How many time I wander away from the truth that I know and take the glory for myself.  How many times my heart wells up with pride and know-it-allness and I wonder how on earth many more times do I have to be taught the same thing for me to actually understand.  I imagine it will be a lifetime of the same lessons.  A lifetime of the same learning.  A lifetime of Christ showing me that He is the way, not I.  That He has the answers, not I.  That He gets the glory, not I.

So it turns out the only reason that I was an expert toddler parent is because I have control issues and my toddlers generally thrived on a controlled environment.  Routine and order and organization were hailed as king and this worked for us.  But it turns out that this tactic doesn’t translate into being an expert parent to teens.  Because teens are opposite of toddlers and like chaos and mess and disorganization.  And teens are opposite of toddlers because they have their own vocabulary to draw upon and their own personalities shining full force and their own ideals.  Ah, there’s the ideals again.  It seems that teenage ideals are someone different than parent ideals and again we find ourselves in this place of learning that love is the way.

Because I want my teenager to wake up and read his bible each morning and pray to God for strength for the day.  Instead he wakes up still half dead and strolls to the cupboard in a stupor inhaling anything and everything he sees.

And I want my teenager to volunteer at the local animal shelter or food bank and for it to be his own idea because he just loves people so much and wants to serve his community with all of his spare time.  Instead when I ask if he would like to consider volunteering he looks up at me with the most confused face and says, “Why?”

And when I ask my boys what they want to do and I’m thinking something along the lines of hiking through the woods and picking wildflowers and marveling at the beautiful place God has given us to live, the first thing they ask his, “Can we bring our BB guns?”

And I see it now.  I see what I was told when I was 20.

But at 20 I hadn’t met by teenage boys yet and I didn’t know that they would really like target shooting and camping in the woods and seeing for how many days exactly they can navigate camping without wearing anything on their feet whatsoever.  (the answer would be 4)  I didn’t know that showers wouldn’t be an important part of their day.  I didn’t know that they would be drawn to Anime.  And bows and arrows.  And slingshots.  And I didn’t know the waters we’d have to be navigating together, their very teenage struggles, and I held an ideal that lust and masturbation and internet pornography and lying and deceit and arrogance and anger and pride wouldn’t be so near because we bought them that doll and we limited their sugar intake as toddlers.  I didn’t know that they wouldn’t really feel like reading their bibles and harsh words come out altogether too quickly sometimes and laziness shows up daily and they just want to pummel each other much of the day (though they know better!) because having brothers can be downright annoying at times!  I didn’t know these things would occur because we PRAYED FOR THEM!  How dare they have struggles, Lord, we’ve raised them to be different!  We’ve taught them from toddlerhood who you are and how they ought to live.  We’ve lifted them up to you every single day!  Shouldn’t they get a ‘get off sin free’ card?

Of course the answer  is no.  Of course it is.

Am I glad we had ideals for our children?  Absolutely.

Do I realize that just because we do all we do does not ensure they will turn out a certain way?  I do now.

Am I thankful that God keeps teaching me the lesson that I am not in control and He is?  Sort of.  But yes.

Do I see now that the more people I meet, and the more people I see, especially when these people are living extensions of yourself, that I realize that all I can do is love.

Through sin and struggle, through teaching and training, through our day to day expectations, through our day to day failure, I see that my boys are their own people for good and for bad and what they need from me is not an ideal to which they can not adhere or my idea of how exactly their life should look but they need my unending love.

Warning: teenager in mirror is closer than he appears

photo copy

From the vantage point of having two teenagers and one pre-teen I have to say that, at this juncture, life seems a little  unfair to them.  But first, let me tell you a story.

I went for a run yesterday evening and soaked in the  glory of the sunset and marvelled at how all the farm fields that had crops taller than I only last week were now all shaved down to just a few inches.  I had a favourite podcast blaring in my ears and challenging me in all sorts of ways.  As I looped around and back I passed a small grocery store and decided to pop in for a few treats for the boys.  It was only a ten minute walk to home from here so I carried the small bag of groceries and briskly walked along the sidewalk feeling the ache of muscles well worked.

As I was walking along the SIDEWALK I got that sense that someone was behind me so I turned around to see someone RIGHT behind me.  On a bike.  Going fast.  I let out a scream and we did the dance of I’m going this way, no you’re going this way, I’ll go that and then it happened.  The teenager on a bmx took me out with his bike.  I stumbled and caught myself and grabbed my arm where his handle scraped along it and I sputtered out an, “Oof, I’m sorry.”  Because I’m Canadian and this is what we do.  We apologize for things not worthy of apologies and have been known to say we’re sorry to a lamp post should we bump into it.  (guilty.)

Then, in a matter of one second flat I surveyed the situation.  The situation being that I was walking along the sidewalk and got smashed into by a teenager on a BMX when there was a bike lane RIGHT BESIDE ME!  The situation being that I, who was walking along the sidewalk and had no idea who was coming up behind me, apologized to the teenager on a BMX who was riding on the sidewalk and came up so close behind me that he smashed right into me.  The situation being that the teenager said nothing and just drove on his merry way.

As I took stock of all of that, I realized I had no reason to apologize and so I yelled out, “NO, ACTUALLY I’M NOT SORRY!  RIDE IN THE BIKE LANE!!”

I’m sure to him I’m a geriatric lady who is getting all in a fuss about nothing.  I remember being a teenager.

So when I look at my teenagers I fear that the world has already unfairly judged them by the standards of the lowest form of teenager.  I fear that the world will look at them with eyes that see them as the ones who leave garbage all over the skate park and graffiti the walls of the local schools.  I fear that the world will see their size and assume their age and know that they’re the ones who talk filthy and make rude jokes and are probably selling drugs at school.  I fear that the world won’t know how to engage them simply because they’re teens.  Because they sometimes seem like they’re on another planet when they talk of movies they’ve watched or video games they play.

We talk often in our family about changing the stereotypes.  About being different than people will assume you to be.  About being a teenager who can smile a friendly smile and say hi when you pass someone on the street instead of making people wish they would have crossed to the other side before they neared you.

We talk of the things they love.  How skateboarding and snowboarding have long been viewed as rebellious sports and having a lifestyle immersed in both often looks like lots of drugs and alcohol and girls.  But that doesn’t mean that it has to.  It does mean that people may see them with a skateboard and assume they’re like that though, a thought that is frustrating and sad to me.

Teenagers get a bad rep with good reason.  There are a lot of confused and curious teenagers out there who are pushing every boundary that could be pushed and trying new things and ending up in bad places.  But for every one of those there are a lot of fun loving and kind teenagers who care about others and start new charities and respect their teachers and work hard at getting good grades.

Of course, we’re only a few years into the teenage years and maybe one day my boys will deserve to be painted with the ‘horrible teenager’ brush but until they’re there I wish the world could look through eyes that see human and not simply teenager.  That the world could see that this is a person who is living life the best way they know how given the resources they have and even if they have a ring in their eyebrow and a bit too much make up on their face it’s only because they haven’t learned that less is more yet and instead of judging their character based on that we would give them a chance to prove themselves before we make up our minds.

I hope we don’t lump all teens into a category that is far from fair.  I hope we seek rather to engage them, listen to them and guide them…..right on into the BIKE LANE!!!