Thursday, October 28, 2010

Discovering Parenting

When I had my son I wouldn't really say I had much of an idea what my parenting philosophy was. Of course I had some things clearly spelled out in the do's and don'ts columns. For example the do column contained cloth diapers and extended breast feeding, while the don't column contained pacifiers, television, and daily intake of sweets.

But I am not sure there is truly a way to know what your parenting philosophy is until that baby is in your arms and suddenly you have to start making on-the-spot decisions about how to respond to it. That explains how we fell into co-sleeping, how my child was almost never out of someones arms until the age of 3 months, and how we quickly rejected any cry-it-out methods of sleep training. I would say being a parent is 80% reaction and about 10% intention, with the other 10% being taken up by moments of insanity.

It has taken a good year for my husband and I to really come into our own as parents, and that is not to say that we have arrived by any means. It feels as though our parenting philosophy is daily challenged and in constant flux. But, we do know in general how we want to respond to our son and what things are really important to us as molders and shapers of this future autonomous person.

As the munchkin is approaching his one year birthday it is amazing to look back and see how far we have come. Our baby has grown so much, but it feels as though I have grown even more. My relationship with my husband has been stretched and strengthened, my relationship with my friends has adapted and grown, my relationship with God has evolved in a way I never expected and I can feel that who I am at a deep level has been changed.

Becoming a parent is about so much more then how much television to let your child watch and what type of diapers you use. It is about discovering a completely new side of yourself that can be more selfless, more giving and yet full of the most unique kind of love and joy that can only be experienced through the challenges and ups and downs of parenting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Calls for Help

This season in my life has been drenched in prayer in a way I have never experienced before. I have always struggled with prayer. I would sit down with the best intentions of spending 10 solid minutes communing with God, or I would try to pray throughout the day, on my drive to work, before I fell asleep, but always my mind would wander off without my even knowing and I would usually say "amen" in frustration.

But now I find myself in a situation far beyond my control or ability to cope, and throughout the day I am leaning more and more on prayer. Don't get me wrong, I do not pray all day nor do I have long, fruitful conversations with God. What I have found is that in this time of true need as I am struggling to rely on God as my only source of help and restoration, my heart seems to be calling out to him at times even without me consciously choosing to.

Mostly it manifests itself in little desperate calls for help that sound to me a lot like begging. I will be doing the laundry or brushing my teeth and I catch myself praying "God, please restore what is broken." or "Lord, we need you so desperately in this situation."  It may not sound like a lot, but it keeps happening throughout the day, sometimes for longer periods, and for me at least it is so much more then at any time in my past.

Even as my prayers are increasing I am also aware of mixed feelings regarding this new development in my walk with God. I feel as though I am using God. I did not pray as much as I would have liked to in the past, but now that I need something from him prayers seem to be flowing out of me full of requests and demands for intervention. There is also a part of me that does not want to pray and ask God for anything because of my fear that if this situation is not resolved to my liking that I will resent God for not having stepped in. I would rather not ask then risk being denied.

Yet, my prayers continue. It does not feel optional. I recognize my need for God during this season, and fair or not, answered or not, I do not think my heart will let me stop praying. Perhaps that is why God brings these times in our lives. To spread our hearts open to him and pour out of us all those things that we know are beyond our realm of influence and require a deep touch from God and a healthy dose of prayer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

DOING

Church has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was raised in the church, my parents were always involved in church ministry at a deep level and our weekly routine flowed around activities linked to the church.

Since moving to Chicago I have struggled with finding a church and more importantly, finding the point of attending a church regularly. Somewhere along the way in my journey I have become disillusioned with church and religion in general. Yes, I believe in God, but I am not sure how to find him amidst the rituals, rhetoric and relevance that personify organized religion to me.

At work last week, one of my patients illustrated to me a perfect example of why I am struggling with church at this time in my life. This patient was a young woman, a single mom to two small children who is in the end stages of a devastating cancer. During our visit she confessed to me that she is too sick and fatigued to make good meals for her children and feels guilty with always having frozen lasagna. I asked if there was any family to help her and she said no, she was on her own. Digging deeper I asked about any other organizations she was involved in that might be able to help her with home cooked meals.

Her response was this: "My church was sending me meals, but the lady who was in charge of it said I was too much of a burden, so I don't ask them for meals anymore."

My sadness at hearing this was matched only by my anger. Of course I know that not all churches are like that, but what this story illuminated for me is what a poor job many churches do of actually DOING anything. Right there in that congregation was a woman in desperate need of home cooked meals for her kids and her need was viewed as too much of a burden, at least to the particular woman in charge of that ministry.

My patients story reminded me of all the reasons I am frustrated with churches. I am frustrated with the huge buildings, the lavish interiors, the concert style worship services. I am frustrated with the three point messages, the color bulletins, the souped up visual effects. But, I think on a deeper level what I am really frustrated with is myself and my own inaction and lack of DOING something to meet the needs of the truly needy around me. 

I have not given up on church. I will continue to seek a church home and more to the point, seek what place I have in these less then perfect institutions that are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I can recognize that I have no right to criticize unless I am also willing to roll up my sleeves and do what needs to be done, to take on the burden of those in need and to show love to those I have an opportunity to touch, through the ministry of a church or at times in spite of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nights Around the Fire

There is something about fire that draws people into intimacy. I know that is kind of a weird thing to write, but it is something I have experienced twice now over the last month.

Several weeks ago during a visit with my family, my siblings and I spent two long evenings gathered around a fire pit talking, laughing, crying, praying and arguing in the way only the six of us can. There was just something magical about gathering around a fire, watching the flames leap and dance while pouring our souls out to each other. Somehow the darkness that surrounded us, broken only by the fire we circled, provided a safe place to unburden myself, to be honest and open as though there was nothing else I needed to worry about except the intensity of the flames that warmed me and the company of the people I loved the most around me.

This week, after a difficult day, I suggested my hubby and I have a candle lit dinner after the munchkin was in bed. Once the house was quiet, I cooked up a quick meal, turned off all the lights in the house and we ate a cozy dinner at our dining room table with only the pale flicker of candle light. I don't know if it was the candles that I have to thank for that evening, but the conversation that flowed between us was deep and rich and exactly what we needed as a couple. We talked about our relationship, family and God, but instead of settling for the surface interactions that mark our day to day communication, we were able to really dig into each others mind and heart and find that deeper level of openness and connection that can be so elusive in our daily routine.

As I have reflected back on these moments that have been so meaningful to me, I really think, as funny as it may sound, that coming together around fire be it bonfire or candle light, creates an atmosphere of ease and intimacy that allows people to say things they might not have felt comfortable or safe enough to say in broad daylight. Around a fire with everyone's gaze directed at the flames and just enough shadow on your face to make you feel protected, you can expose your heart just a little more, you can be truthful about who you are even in the dark places and you can allow yourself to share an intimate moment with those around you in a way you might not have been able to do without the help of the flames.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Biggest Fan

I love movies, but don't really follow the life and times of movie stars. Music is not really my thing.I do watch a few select TV shows, but can't say that I have any interest in meeting the cast. Don't even get me started on politicians...

But meeting my favorite author, now that turns me into one of those crazy, obsessed "biggest fan" type people.

One of my favorite authors (Non-fiction. For fiction that would be Jane Austin hands down, I read Pride and Prejudice every year, no joke) is Shauna Niequist, and she recently released her newest book Bittersweet. Since she is based out of Chicago, I had the opportunity to go see her at one of her book release events this last week. My friend Jen is the one who introduced me to Shauna's writing, so we made a girls night out of it and traveled together.

Now I knew there would be a chance to get my book signed, so the entire car ride over I practiced what I would say to Shauna Niequist once I met her. It was pretty ridiculous I admit. My biggest fear was that I would come across as the nutty, star-struck fan that I am, so I was trying to think of how I could be "cool" and say something meaningful without coming across as insane. Oh the speeches I constructed in my head.

The event was a lot of fun and I basked in the quality time with such a close friend while also sharing the joy of hearing Shauna speak and getting a glimpse into her life that cannot quite be felt through the pages of a book. At the end we hurried to be one of the first in line for the book signing....the big moment. And then we were face to face with Shauna, this author that absolutely inspires me and challenges me with her beautifully crafted writing, her fierce love for her family and friends, and her deep, rich relationship with God.

It went something like this: I handed her my book, told her what name to put in it including the spelling, asked if she takes pictures with fans which she graciously agreed to, got to put my arm around her for a picture (oh yes, I basically hugged Shauna Niequist. Very cool.), said thank you, and all of a sudden Jen and and I were in the parking lot walking to my car. Wow.

I cannot even describe my disappointment as I buckled up and drove away. In my great concern for coming across as obsessed, I missed out on the chance to express my gratitude and admiration to someone whom I believe is truly deserving of it. I wanted to tell her how thankful I am for every sentence she wrote that was exactly what I was feeling. I wanted to tell her how many times I have chosen to slow down and appreciate a moment in time because her words reminded me of all the good things I am blessed with and how important it is to soak in every minute of it. I wanted to tell her about the other beautiful women in my life who have been touched by her books and have taken steps to change things in their lives because her wisdom and honesty challenged them.

But, I said nothing. Now of course I recognize that there was not time to gush all of this to her, and I am sure she hears very similar things from other fans everyday, but I really would have liked to add my voice to the chorus.

So, I guess I learned something new about myself that night, and if I could do it again I would not let my fear of making a fool out of myself leave me instead full of regret that I did not take the opportunity to make a fool out of myself and be the huge fan that I am. Like Shauna's books have taught me, savor each moment and take every opportunity you have to touch the lives of those around you. Don't be afraid to be the biggest fan.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

All These Things

Beauty and riches
long life and happiness
Family and friendships
Time and patience
Inner peace and kindness
grace and compassion
Ease and contentment
healing and restoration
Wisdom and understanding
a heart of love and mercy
Talent and motivation
discipline and humility
But of all these things, what I want more, so much more then anything
Is to know you

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blogging Grace

I have blog envy.

Since I have started blogging I have also started reading more blogs (including some blogs that are supposed to teach you how to be a better blogger) and I will admit that on some days I kind of hate my blog. The very best blogs that I have found are well written, focused on a specific topic or niche and are spearheaded by a very interesting blogger who usually has unique characteristics that define his or her life.

At this point my blog has none of those things. I don't mean to say that in a woe is me kind of way, it is just a simple observation that my writing is rusty, my topics are all over the place, and if I'm being honest, there is nothing that unique about my life these days (not that I'm complaining, I love my simple, beautiful, ordinary life).

So, some days I hate my blog, and on those days I am forced to search my thoughts and feelings for the reason why. Why does it matter to me how popular, read, or followed my blog is? Why am I blogging in the first place?

I started blogging because I wanted to write. Period. No agenda, no niche or clear cut topic, no platform. I guess what I am finding is that, yes it is great that I want to write and I am doing that, but it naturally follows that I want to be read too. Hence the blog envy when I visit some of my favorite blogs and see the followers in the thousands.

My good friend recently told me something to this effect, "You have to be able to give yourself grace."

I am not good at that in any area of my life really, from the cleanliness of my house to my exercise habits, I like to have it all put together and can be very hard on myself when things do not stack up. But as I deal with my blog envy the concept of grace is where I am putting my efforts. I am trying to give myself grace to have a very new blog that is still discovering itself, grace that I have not yet decided where I want to go with my writing, grace that I am still exploring the things in my life that I am passionate about and that fuel my writing.

My instincts and personality tell me that I want to have it all now, I want to have arrived, but I know there is a long road of discovery that I still have to travel as I decide what this blog is all about and what I am all about. I don't have to have everything all figured out right now, though wouldn't that be nice. I just have to have grace for myself as I am writing and blogging, learning and growing, finding my passion, my niche and maybe a little bit of myself along the way.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sick Days

Mothers do not get sick days.

I realized this many months ago when my little one got his first illness and I of course caught it too. He was sick, I was more sick, and it was a struggle to get through those few days when all I wanted to do was take a long, long, loooong bath and curl up in bed for several hours of sleep. I had only been a mother for two months at that time, but I learned an important lesson about being sick in this new context of my life: there are no sick days.

Today the munchkin and I are both sick again, and I do not have any words of wisdom about how to cope with a coughing, snotty, sleepless infant when you yourself have the body aches, sinus headache, chills and congestion. There is no easy answer. I wish there was someone who could step in just for a few hours so I could get the rest I need, but that is not the reality of this moment. Today is one of those inevitable days in mothering when I have to grin and bear it.

But it is not all gloomy, and I will take a break from my pity party for a minute to appreciate the beauty of today. For a few brief moments this morning the munchkin and I shared a deep belly laugh as we played with the cat, when we both woke up bright and early we laid in bed together for a few extras minutes snuggling, and before he left for work my hubby gave me some much needed support and sympathy.

Mothering as a full-time job comes with a completely different set of benefits then all my prior jobs. There are no sick days, no lunch breaks, no holidays and I am beginning to have a sneaking suspicion there are no vacation days either. Instead I am paid in smiles, giggles, arms outstretched to be held, the joy of the word mama, and the trusting clasp of a baby hand. Quite a different currency, but when I really think about it, it is enough to get me through these long days of feeling ill and tired.


I would love to hear from you! How do you handle sick days with a little baby?

(This blog is part of the mom's 30 minute blog challenge hosted by Steadymom)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Journey

I am discovering that the absolute best part about being the second oldest of six children is the opportunity to watch my younger siblings grow up. To a large extent I had a hand in raising them. When they were young I changed their diapers, helped with laundry, fed them, played with them (when mom made me), babysat them, and had the chance to teach them many things. Of course their was fighting and power struggles, disagreements and all out battles, there was a time in my teenage years when my younger siblings admit they hated me, but through it all seeing the beautiful people they have become makes me so thankful.

In this difficult season in life I have been grateful for the strength I am finding in my siblings. I am especially impressed by my sister Stephanie who is two below me. Growing up we were anything but friendly, and I used to pick on her mercilessly for no apparent reason, but now as she has entered her 20's I am continually amazed by the beautiful young woman she has become. Her ability to trust and befriend people inspires me, her artistic flair baffles and amazes me, and her faith in God challenges me each time we speak. She is a beautiful spirit in the truest sense of the phrase.

It amuses me to think back to our younger years and how my poor middle sister was always the one forgotten. When we were introduced to others or people outside the family interacted with us, she was the one who's name people couldn't remember, or they were so sure there was one more kid in our family, but couldn't put their finger on who they were missing. No one would do that now. Stephanie has blossomed into a stunning young lady, and her engaging personality makes her unforgettable.

All this to say that she has started a blog of her own and I am so excited to get this window into her mind and continue to watch her journey into womanhood.

www.stephanie-journeys.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Crisis

Crisis comes. It is a fact of life. Our lives are full of seasons, and when we are in the midst of a season it is hard to imagine life being any other way. My past few years have been a season of relative ease and happiness, but this week has marked a new season in my life, and I see that this will be a season of change, heartache and growth.

Today I am focusing on being thankful for what is good and intact in my life; my husband, my son, my amazing group of friends that rally around me, my family. Last week in the midst of a crisis I traveled to be with my family, four sisters, one brother and my parents. It was a busy, noisy, crazy few days full of tears and laughter, hope and brokenness sometimes all at once. There were meals together at crowded tables, conversations by the campfire that alternated from supportive to combative, endless trips back and forth between houses and restaurants, and at the end of the weekend I found myself tired and emotionally exhausted. But, as I traveled home I recognized the healing that can take place just by spending time with the people you love, who love you for who you are even though they know all the messy things about you.

Yes, crisis comes, but that does not mean that life is destroyed or that hope is lost. My husband is a daily reminder of how I am blessed, my son smiles at me and I feel hope again, my sister calls me and I am overwhelmed by the strength of our bond through difficult times. And above all I am learning to trust God. In the most challenging, heartbreaking way, I am reminded of the only thing I can place my hope on that will never fail, whatever crisis may come.