Monday, December 17, 2012

a mother's love will save the world.

Why did you give us
such tender skin
and ask us
to carry fire?

We are consumed
by our own smoldering
hardly knowing
the power we carry to scald.

Dress the wounds
we have borne
and given
from our own burning. 

Make us wise 
to the fire in our bones
that it may be 
for warmth and light
in all our darkness.

-- Jan L. Richardson





I've taken the shootings in Sandy Hook harder than I expected.  Last night I couldn't stop thinking about the teacher who hid her students in closets, or the shooter's mother seeing her child point a gun at her, or the parents waiting to hear if their five and six year olds were still alive.  In church this morning I watched gorgeous children carrying wrapped presents in a single file line to the front where they would sing, my eyes filled with tears for the mothers and fathers whose babies are dead today rather than in a Christmas pageant, or at home having a late breakfast.  Their futures were too bright as they walked by me, I had to look away.

I spoke with the mother of my friend Bri this weekend.  We catch up by phone when I'm in North America and it's so refreshing.  We met because my friend died in West Africa in a terrible car accident, with many others, and I had the privilege of spending the last six months of her life with her.  She was 25.  A month after her death I flew to be with her family in California, my own body still aching from the accident, my heart in shock.  A tragic way to bond but it does bring you close; I told them every story I could from our months together, recounting their daughter's compassion and courage and love for Nigerian fashion, things they already knew.  It's was seven years this week, but it's Christmas again soon and that holiday will always be etched with grief.  The shootings in Connecticut brought a fresh wave of pain, she knows what it's like to lose your baby suddenly, to say goodbye for the last time with no idea it's the last time.  God has worked miracles, weaved redemption threads so beautiful and strong, drawing people in and sending them out touched, always touched by Bri's life; her mom will testify to that all day long.  But I'm pretty sure she'd rather have her baby girl in her arms.

There are too many mothers in the world who have buried their children.  Whether it's a car accident, cancer, malaria or murder it's all chaotic and horrible and I can hardly go there in my heart and imagination while still breathing.  I've met some of these mothers, I've held their hands and sung to them and the world keeps spinning, but even seven years or twenty-five and there will be something fresh in the pain, some wondering about how their child would have been on this day, of this year.  The rest of us will move on from their loss as the earth takes us around again; they will always be a mother who has buried her child.

We have to look death in the face this week, we can't pretend it couldn't happen to us.  In order to stop fear from moving in and holding me completely hostage to 'what ifs' and a thousand scenarios I have to remind myself of a different story.  It's the truest one, where one day there is no more death, or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of sin and disease and corruption and hatred has passed away.  There are no small coffins, no coffins at all.  This is not escapism and it doesn't replace the hard and healing work of grief, corporate and on our own.  This is hope, as raw as it gets.  The world isn't headed for disaster, although it may seem that way.  Heaven and earth were never meant to be separated and human history has been dark - but the grain of the universe is reconciliation.  Nothing is outside the scope of God's healing work, as slow as it may be; no traumatized child or grieving parent, no person with mental health issues or firearms or terrorizing rage.  Not even the shooter and the children and women who were killed on Friday.

Someday, in real history and real time, God will come and make His home with us here on earth.  With God will come the right and just realities of heaven even here, where God's own fingers will wipe our collective tears away, one by one.  And until then, because of then, we choose the way of love.  Tonight as I rocked my son before bed I told him how much I loved him, and that there was nothing he could do that would change that.  I thought of Adam Lanza's mom, how if she could, I'm sure she would be rocking her son tonight, weeping and praying and assuring him of her love, though most of the world hate him.  Even now I imagine him in the arms of God, made whole for the first time, held tight by a fierce mother-love that can't be stopped by death or demons, nor anything else in all creation.  This is the love that gives me hope for the world's future.  As Wendell Berry writes in his novel Jayber Crow,
"For love is always more than a little strange here.  It is not explainable or even justifiable.  It is itself the justifier.  We do not make it.  If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it.  It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive.  It is in the world but it is not altogether of it.  It takes us there even when it most holds us here."

As important as I believe gun control is (and support for families affected by mental illness, and even non-violent and responsive parenting) my hope is in the mother-love of God: belly taut with promise, already in labour over us until even the worst parts of us are reconciled once and for all. 


"The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the young goat. The calf and the lion will graze together, and a little child will lead them."  Isaiah 11:6

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

States & Provinces (we made some music)

My husband and I released a 6 song album recorded over the past few years (including one recorded last month).  We're calling ourselves States & Provinces (Get it?  I'm from the states, he's from the provinces. :)  If you're interested to hear more, you'll find our new Bandcamp site here:  


I thought I'd have more time to write while on our holiday but instead I've been hanging out with treasured friends, reading in the bathtub, cross-country skiing and assuring my two year old that there is sun in Canada… just not in December, apparently.

I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season, whatever your weather may bring.



Monday, December 3, 2012

advent (but i'm not ready): a modest anthology and song

It's hard to believe the Advent season is upon us already.  My family arrived this week in the Vancouver area from Australia, making many friends and enemies on the 14 hour flight with our two babies.  Just kidding, mostly friends.  We've nearly beaten jet-lag and are finding our rhythms in the chilly, endless rain.  Our December will be warm though, full of family and dear friends; it's been two years since we were on North American soil, our children are loving their grandparents (and we are loving the extra hands!)

Reflecting on last year at this time I thought I would re-post a few blogs that I wrote around the advent theme.  I was in my last month of pregnancy (baby girl came January 8th), preparing to have two babes 17 months apart (with my son a very poor sleeper), processing the trauma of my son's birth in light of impending labour, seeing so much darkness in my neighbourhood and my own apathy.  Many things felt out of my control.  What did it mean to get ready for God to come? 

I'm pasting these handful of short posts into a long one, but if you have the time then please read on.  My husband and I recorded a version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" a few years ago and it's at the end of this post.  You have to read everything for the song to play.  Just kidding.


advent (together we wait) 28 November, 2011

I confessed some fears to Chris in the dark.  A movie we watched that evening had an insignificant sub-plot line that pricked open a chasm in my heart I had barely remembered was there.  I said the words in whispers, held my breath and then lost it to near silent sobs straight into his chest.  He held me again and listened to my body's weeping motions, reckless waves that he knows well.

Our boy lay sleeping in his bed close by and I didn't want to wake him.  So many times I've sobbed silently into a pillow or my husband's chest, so as not to disturb the rest of the world as she sleeps.

It's almost Advent, Chris reminded me in the morning as we shared more words.  It's that time again.  Time to confess our longing, to name the darkness, to cry tears for everyone and for ourselves.  And it's time to prepare for God to come.

So I speak out my fears and light a candle.  I meet the pain, look her in the eyes and I stay with her there, in the darkness.  And together we wait for the coming of God.


 advent (the womb of the world)  30 November, 2011

We called our pregnancy with Safran our '40 weeks of Advent'.  We waited expectantly for our son to arrive in our arms.  We longed for him with near desperation, especially as the time drew nearer.  My emotions were heavy in those months.  It was dark.  I cried often, in the evenings laying in bed next to Chris, helpless.  I carried the grief and pain of losing our first baby early in pregnancy very deeply.  I battled despair nearly every day.  And yet I carried a whole new baby inside as well, and I was thrilled.  I felt his dance daily and dreamed of our future together.  The tension of grief and expectancy was difficult to hold.  I always felt guilty in embracing either.

Maybe that's what Advent is about - the opportunity to enter the womb of the world, and she's honest with us.  Her dreams have been washed out to sea with chaotic waves; she's lost children, she weeps.  The sweatshops, sex slavery, civil wars, domestic violence, greed and exploitation, cancer and HIV - she knows the faces and stories intimately and it tears her to pieces.  She laments.  She groans, the Apostle Paul writes, with the pains of labour.

And yet, she's still pregnant with new life.  Somehow she carries a hope again that's stretching her to this thin fragility, ready to burst yet being held.  Somehow this same creation that groans in pain also filled with trees clapping their hands in joy and fields and hills singing with expectancy.  She knows that God is coming to judge the earth and make all things new. 

This December I'm actually 'with child' during Advent and the impending "coming" gives me a tangible taste of a pregnant world waiting for God to deliver us all.  I can feel the ache setting in.  I know a bit of the longing.  I too am waiting for a new world to come, for the redemption of my body, for glad cries of deliverance as a fresh babe is welcomed onto my chest.

My growing belly is a sacrament and I solemnly and joyfully partake; my stretch marks holy before the Lord.


advent (fertile darkness) 4 December, 2011

'I believe that Christ came not to dispel the darkness but to teach us
to dwell with integrity, compassion, and love in the midst of
ambiguity.  The one who grew in the fertile darkness of Mary's womb
knew that darkness is not evil of itself.  Rather, it can become the
tending place in which our longings for healing, justice and peace
grow and come to birth.'

- Jan L. Richardson

I remember the moment I first read this quote.  It was the fall of 2004 - I was in a warm living room of a friend/mentor, drinking tea and paging through an artsy book on her coffee table.  I always stayed too long at her house, a few hours after the other girls had left.  She never seemed to mind.  It was the middle of my 'urban studies' semester in North Philadelphia and the city welcomed me and then gave me an education I thought I already had.

Racism.  It was still in full force?  In Philadelphia?  In our community?  What was community anyway?  How were were we supposed to do this in a way that was real and life-giving?  What was worshiping God really about?  Who was Jesus and did it matter if he was actually God?  What about homosexuality?  How big was God's kingdom?  Was anyone excluded?

My internship was 13 blocks down the street at a shelter for women and children.  I was Miss Emma's personal assistant.  She was a social worker now, this strong and beautiful and compassionate world changing woman, committed to serving the families in her care.  She had become a Christian in prison, where she was locked up for 'selling drugs to white kids from the suburbs'.

It was an education that I wasn't looking for, I didn't know I needed.

And every Sunday night I would spend a few hours at my friend's house, just talking.  I would say my questions out loud and ramble, back track, blaspheme and recant and blaspheme again.  Struggling to keep my heart intact; someone was trying to break it - either the city or God Herself.

The questions were real.  They were heavy.  I woke in the night thinking of them, sometimes I couldn't breathe in bed, they were sitting there on my chest keeping me from peace and sleep.  And I found refuge in my friend, in her ears, her honesty that always trumped her age and education.  She had discovered a way to walk knee-deep in the gray; she invited me to come along.  She didn't give me answers, though.  She would never tell me what to think.

She honoured the darkness as holy.  My 'faith crisis' was taking me deeper and nearer, not further away - she promised me.  My questions were growing me and I could befriend them rather than try to conquer them with 'blessed assurance'.

This advent season, I'm remembering those old questions.  These days I'm too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend time with the questions that live in my heart.  Or maybe I'm afraid of ambiguity, of the not-knowing, of the messiness of the theological implications of life on my street.  I'm afraid that if I can't tell Jesus what he wants from me, he might ask me for something I don't want to give him.

But advent calls the darkness fertile.

advent (listen to Mary's song)  18 December 2011

Asking God to come and plant His dreams in us is costly - to carry the things of God we must be willing to change, to grow, to stretch and ache; our bodies will never be the same, our hearts will have a new capacity for love and for pain.  We will steward an exciting and terrifying responsibility - one we will only be able to parent and never control.  There will be sleepless nights and bone-tiring days, few breaks and few acknowledgements of how much we give.

But to carry and bring to birth God's dreams in the world - however seemingly small and fragile they are - what a magnificent honour.  Mary recognized this, despite the great cost she bore, a pregnant teenager who could easily be killed or abandoned because of her situation, and a mother who would one day see her son murdered before her own eyes.  "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of His servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name."  (Luke 2)

What are the things I have deemed too costly to carry?  Let my heart be stirred this advent season by the song of a vulnerable, pregnant teenager, confident in the goodness of God.

advent (implore my doubting heart)  23 December 2011
 
by Daniel Raus, a Czech poet
not even in the middle of a desert can it be claimed
that water does not exist
not even amidst the ocean's waves can it be denied
that there are trees and mountains far away
that's why I teach my impatient mind
to wait
that's why I urge my dulled ears
to listen
that's why I implore my doubting heart
to believe

advent (but I'm not ready)  24 December 2011

It's December 24th, 9:33pm.  The baby has been sleeping a few hours, we snuck away while Nana and Papa listened to his quiet in the baby monitor, and we stopped in at a Christmas party full of people we adore.  We ate extremely yummy and sugary food, we chatted and had pictures taken, we laughed and played games.  A few presents are wrapped and under our little tree (on a table, safe from our saf).  We gave baking to the neighbours and mailed last minute cards (obviously not going to make their international voyages by tomorrow) at the post office.  My belly is bulging with 38 weeks + 2 days of baby and painless contractions are growing less comfortable.  Advent is over, the coming is upon us.

What if I'm ... not ready?

It's been a bit stressful being this pregnant during the Christmas season.  What do we prioritize?  The baby could have come already, or could stay hidden until mid January.  Do we spend our money on gifts for family or on a new car seat?  Do I clean the corners of my house or wrap presents and write postcards? 

As we approached the party up the street, a woman was standing on the corner, waiting for a man to pick her up.  She was dressed in jeans and a jean jacket - not typical attire for that corner, but I'm pretty sure she was working.  When we left the party, she was gone.  I wondered about her, and him, and the sadness still surfacing regularly in my neighbourhood on Christmas eve.

I tried to focus my heart this Advent.  I had more times of reading scripture and stillness before God than usual.  I wrote a few blogs on the subject.  But I don't feel like I made myself ready for God to come.

I don't feel ready for this baby to come, either.  I felt so ready for our firstborn, so desperate.  Probably because I had no idea how a baby can invade so thoroughly, taking so many hostages, relentless and helpless and always confessing need with such determination that someone will come.  I know the cost this time, and as much as I'm trying to to be ready, I'm just not.  How can we ever be ready to welcome a whole other free being into our lives forever, and one that will require so much from us?

But the baby doesn't care if I'm ready, nor if I consider myself good enough.  The baby doesn't care if the house is organized (it is not), or if there are extra meals in the freezer (there are not), or if the bassinet is even set up (nope, although my husband assures me 'that takes like 5 minutes'.  mhm.)

The baby is coming anyway.  (Probably not tonight, by the way, but coming, for sure).

The first time God came to the world, He came as a baby.  That in itself is beyond wild, beyond ridiculous and dangerous and is so hard for me to believe.   The world was in chaos (as usual), He would be born into an occupied territory and grow up poor and oppressed.  He didn't come because the world was ready, for we will never be ready for what Jesus has to bring, or for what He will require of us.


God came because it was time.  Not because we were ready, but because we were in need.  The beauty of Advent is in God's willingness to come to us, not our readiness for Him to come.


That gives me hope this eve of 'the coming'; my street is not ready, nor my home or my family, barely my heart even.  But the belly is huge and the arrival is imminent, though we will never be 'good enough'.  Because we are certainly in need.


Our confession of need and awareness of our longing is what makes us ready for the coming of God.


So I sigh and sing with the rest of the world tonight, "Come, Lord Jesus".


(Here's a rendition of 'O Come...' I recorded with my husband a couple years back.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Till there are no strangers anymore (Gaza and Israel, you're on my mind)

My family of four is going to board a plane for 14 blissful hours of airline food, movies and sleep and land in my husband's country of Canada.  We have holiday time in Canada and the US, our first trip with Saf since he was 5 months old, our first trip with Jubee, ever.  I've recorded my first sentence in this paragraph and have it playing quietly in my children's ears as they sleep.  Just kidding.  But would that work?  I'm not sure how we'll make it across the Pacific, but that's okay.  It's a direct flight, Sydney to Vancouver, and half of the plane may give us the stink eye for over half a day, but we won't even look at them, we'll be enjoying restraining our two angelic children in a small space 30,000 feet over the world.

We need to pack and clean.  We are so excited to see family and friends and snow and Tim Horton's and the Amish.

But there's been lots on my mind lately, world events that have caused so many too much grief, and I carry some of it with them as I am able.  My husband and I watched crazy video footage from Gaza in 2009, a raid that is similar to what was happening this past week in the violence between Israel and Hamas.  Missiles devastating Palestinian neighbourhoods, traumatizing families, killing children and mothers, bodies pulled from crumbled buildings as people flock to the site of impact offering help.  It's a 20 minute video that is extremely hard to watch.  My husband said the F word and was wiping tears from his eyes, two things he rarely does.  I felt the urge to vomit, picturing my own babies on those stretchers.  I wonder how those mothers are now, how they have survived the grief, if they have found a way to carry it or if they feel buried in it's weight and rubble.  I went to bed that night in between my two children, I had never been so aware of their breathing, never wanted them even closer than against my skin.  While I tried to fall asleep my husband stayed up a bit longer reading, and bought a documentary called "War Child".  You can watch the trailer below, some of the footage is the same as in the video we had watched.  If you live in our neighbourhood we can watch it together  and talk about it soon.

Ten years ago I studied in the Middle East and it was likely my most transformative months.  If I was willing to listen, everyone was willing to teach me.  I soaked it up.  History lessons in the back seat of a taxi, nutrition from the old woman selling fruit and veg, the unwritten laws of hospitality from my home stay family who forced me to eat more, always more, with threats that their eldest daughter's marriage was at stake.  Joyful musicians in Damascus versed us in the oud and tabla, melodies and rhythms so prophetic against the desert and dust and quiet instability.  And young Palestinians, born in Beirut's famous Shatila refugee camp, embodying hope and passion and trust that despite what we see now, the future that waits is good.  l returned to Pennsylvania passionate, I don't think I had a conversation about my experience without crying, especially if we talked politics.  I engaged in every discussion in my college classes by starting with the sentence, "When I was in the Middle East ...".  I knew I would return, spend my life in the urban desert drinking tea and eating koshery, Arabic would be my children's first language and they would call their father "Baba".

I feel so far from it all, the dust has long since washed off of my feet and only a small amount of Arabic made it to my long-term memory.  I've come to love many parts of the world, I've found God there, always there already, and I truly enjoy sitting on floors in the colours and scents of new cultures.  But there is nowhere like the Middle East.  I have never met a more hospitable people, whether in their homeland or in exile.  To this day, if I meet an Arab woman, I know I have already made a friend. I met a woman at the pool this afternoon, she's from Libya, war-torn, unstable, and has been here for three years with her husband and baby girl the same age as mine.  We connected easily, me in board shorts and a tank top, she in long sleeves and a headscarf.  I expected judgment, was embarrassed by my attire, but she didn't flinch, inviting me to her home when we return from our trip.  My husband said I need to give people more credit then I do for their ability to look beyond appearance. 

We talked about her country and about Gaza and it felt good to say I was sorry, that even though I was enjoying the pool with my children so far from the violence of war, I wasn't oblivious.  I cared about her part of the world, about her people and her family and her nation, which she will return to when her husband finishes school.  She stood as my priest, acknowledging my confession, and it was something.  "Your apathy is forgiven, go in peace." Ten years ago I was inviting guest speakers to my college campus, facilitating peaceful protests, collecting toiletries for refugees.  I feel it stirring again, the call to action, although it will be different now.  Friendship is part of it, the sacrament of dialogue and acceptance, acknowledgment, apology and laughter.  This is the slow way perhaps, but what if we all welcomed one more stranger into our lives this week, someone who is different than us, and they stayed long enough to be called our friend? 

And I hear the call to action in my marriage and the way I parent my children.  It's so much easier for me to strike up conversations with women at the park or the pool than it is to face my selfishness, my short temper and frustration.  The same seeds of violence that launch missiles into homes are in my own heart.  I know the way to shalom in the world is enemy love, forgiveness even when we've been severely wronged; and yet I find it so difficult to forgive and release my husband from minor offenses, I want to stew in my annoyance a little bit longer.  The recalcitrance of my own heart leaves me feeling hopeless for the whole world. 

I love this excerpt of Patty Griffin's song "No Bad News", how our simple love of the people closest to us isn't simple at all.  It's the way we must go, loving each other well and making room for another stranger, and another:

I'm gonna find me a man, love him so well, love him so strong, love him so slow
We're gonna go way beyond the walls of this fortress
And we won't be afraid, we won't be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way
We won't be afraid to be alive anymore
And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
Till there are no strangers anymore

... And the bird of peace is flying over, she's flying over and
Coming in for a landing

The women dressed in white changed the history of Liberia, I wrote about that here:  "Women, Weight and War".  The Women in Black movement keeps vigil in city centres around the world, reminding us that things are not okay, they will not accept the violence towards our children as the way things will always be.  How will I protest in my own way here?  How will I reject hatred and anger and violence in the relationships closest to me, with my husband and children, and choose the forgiveness and self-giving love that Jesus taught us, that his resurrection empowers us to embrace.  This is my daily question, my daily living out the answers, my daily failing and receiving the grace of tomorrow.  But this is the way, this is my part in the struggle for shalom in the world.  At least for today.

I highly recommend the book "Parenting for a Peaceful World" by Robin Grille.  I'm ordering a copy of my own as I borrowed the one I read from a library, so hopefully I will write about it soon.  It's also available on Kindle.  This is a must read for parents - Grille lays out a very historically supported argument for the necessity of non-violent parenting, how our collective responsiveness to our children changes the destiny of nations.  It's a great Christmas gift to yourself!  (And that is not an affiliate link.  I don't really know what that means yet.)


We appreciate prayers as we travel and adjust to jet lag.  Any tips for long flights with small, noisy people in tow?  Any tips for helping toddlers adjust to jet-lag?  I welcome your wisdom. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

tandem nursing (10 months in)

We had a friend over for a dinner this week, a young man in his early 20's.  We talked about my blog briefly and I asked what he thinks when I write about topics like breastfeeding.  I hesitate sometimes as I have a good amount of single male friends who read my writing and I assume they wouldn't find lactation to be that interesting.  I was surprised by his answer - he really loves learning about the subject, he said otherwise he wouldn't have even known that women actually feed their babies that way.  It's helped to normalize nursing for him (and doesn't western culture need it to be normalized), to read about the benefits and outworking in our life.  I felt inspired to write a short update about how tandem nursing is going these days, 10 months in.  I won't even use the word 'nipple' but if you aren't interested to read on, I won't be offended.  I won't even know.

nursing my daughter, glamour shot
Six months ago I wrote "4 months in:  the good/hard" - a review of my experiences nursing my then 4 and 21 month old babies.  The past six months have flown, for real, right by, so fast.  I can hardly believe baby girl just hit the 10 month mark and baby boy is 27 months.  [How long will I refer to his age in months?  I have no idea.  Maybe until he weans or until he is 12, whichever comes first. ;)  Saying he's TWO is just is so... broad.  Maybe I should go back to using weeks.]

Yes, so ten months in, here is the honest.  Nursing Jubilee is almost completely enjoyable.  She has always been a quick feeder (second child survival skills?) and while she did become distract-able around 4-5 months when there was something to look at, she now is back to nursing in public easily and contentedly.  I don't use a nursing cover with either child.  I almost always am wearing a singlet (tank top) under my shirt, so I pull my top shirt up and the neck of my singlet down so I'm always covered.  I'm very comfortable that way, my babies don't have to fight any blankets on their heads, and my community sees me nursing my children, even Saf when he asks (which is not too often in public unless he is hurt or upset).  We work/live near our international community full of young people (18-25) and I love that I have conversations about nursing often, that people can see the benefits clearly.  The other afternoon I was teaching in a workshop setting and Jubilee was in the back of the class being held by a friend.  She started to do the "You better give me my mom or else" cry so I put her in my faithful Ergobaby carrier on my chest, put up the hood, and suddenly it was quiet.  Everyone laughed, she nursed happily and I continued to teach.

Jubilee (who weighs 9 kgs/almost 20 lbs) nurses at night probably 3-6 times depending on how she is feeling, if she's teething or a bit sick.  I really enjoy sleeping next to her and she usually nurses for a minute or two, unlatches on her own and rolls onto her other side.  She doesn't have the need to suck all night (although she does occasionally) which gives me hope that in time she will night-wean on her own without much help from me.  My husband accuses me of ridiculous optimism.

During the day she nurses every hour or two unless she's with dad and I'm away, then she probably can last 3-4 hours.  She took interest in solid food around 8 months (we'd just put soft table food in front of her, like steamed broccoli or roasted pumpkin, 1/4 of a banana) and now she has started to chew it up and swallow well.  She has continued to gain weight steadily being basically exclusively breastfed until very recently,  and I would have continued that longer had she not been interested in solid food yet.  I think she's getting to the point of eating to satisfy hunger (maybe) and that means she will eventually start taking less milk when she nurses.  She has taken a pacifier (soother/dummy) since 12 weeks to help with persistent evening vomiting (it helped a lot) so she hasn't nursed for comfort nearly as much as Saf but she does more and more these days.  I'm trying to keep her using the pacifier until we return from our 8 week trip to North America, mostly for the flights and car rides or if Chris and I go .... on ... a.... date.  (Shhh, please don't tell the children.  They will be furious.)

Safran is 15 kgs/ 33lbs and people that hear he is still nursing ask sometimes if he eats solid food.  Yes, very much so.  He is a decent eater although he has his moments of being picky or disinterested which I don't worry too much as he is getting lots of nutrition from my milk.  If he doesn't eat any vegetables one day I don't stress about it or force the issue at all.  Safran still asks for 'nai-nai' 8-10 times a day if we are mostly at home.  If we are out he will ask much less often.  I probably let him nurse 4-8 times a day.

It's not always easy having a 33 pound nursling.  Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by his need for me and he is extremely persistent when asking.  If I'm redirecting him, the best alternative is to hear a story about 'when dad was a little boy'.  Sometimes I'll let him nurse for a few minutes and then do the slow count to ten (in English, Spanish, French or Arabic).  If he's very unhappy to be finished I'll relent with 'one more' and he will be content with another minute.  I have moments where I have an aversion to nursing Saf - I think it's related to hormones and also my frustration level.  During those moments/days I really have to limit his nursing and then rely on Chris (or stories about Chris) to do the job.  Sometimes that means letting him cry in my arms, explaining that I need a break.

On the other hand, nothing ends a meltdown like nursing.  If I've set a limit that Saf is very unhappy with he will definitely protest, usually standing at the door crying to go see Dad and at work.  I usually sit on the couch (nearby) and say that I understand he's upset/frustrated/sad and that I'm here if he wants a cuddle.  I don't want to distract him from his emotions but I also don't want him to feel abandoned.  After a few minutes he'll usually come over, still crying, and ask for nai-nai.  I understand that as his way of reconnecting with me and comforting himself in a healthy way.  I really believe that as I meet that need with him for comfort that he will eventually learn to replicate those feelings himself in good ways.  I usually cuddle him first and help him practice taking deep breaths.

Our nights have been getting better.  I wrote a series when he was about 20 months, "On Sleep (and how we try to get some of it)" about our struggle, but commitment, to gently parenting our children in the night.  When Safran hit about 24 months he started to nurse much less in the night on his own.  I had read on a mothering.com forum that toddlers are often nearly impossible to night-wean from 18-24 months, but will often almost night-wean on their own between 24-26 months as their need to suck naturally decreases.  He's nowhere near night-weaned, but he does wake and nurse less, usually 1-2 times a night.  We do, however, still have rough nights with 6+ wake ups usually when he is sick with a cough or snotty nose.  That's tough, but we survive.  When we return from our holiday he will be 2 1/2 and I would like to give active night-weaning another shot.  Nursing two children in the night isn't ideal, but one great benefit is the suppression of ovulation, which is already 4 months longer than when I was only nursing Safran.

I would have imagined tandem nursing would keep our family extremely healthy through the winter season.  It did not.  My children seemed to catch everything that went around, from colds to croup to stomach bugs.  And the only thing I can think to comfort myself is that, without the immunoglobin laden milk, it would have been worse.  Nursing was definitely a source of comfort and re-hydration during the sicknesses even if it didn't prevent my kids from catching the illnesses. 

nursing my son at our home.  just kidding.  at the public swimming pool.

In the early days of tandem nursing I would nurse the children simultaneously quite often, as emotions were high and life seemed to demand it.  Now they usually nurse separately, but if Jubilee is grumpy and she spots Saf having milk she makes a beeline for us (army crawling at top speed), crying.  It's quite sad and funny and we let her join.  They hold hands, she'll pull his hair and he won't keep his hand on his own side and I wonder if they'll remember any of this sharing of milk, space and intimacy.  The explicit memories may not remain, but I'm pretty sure the joy and comfort they experience together is etching itself deep on their hearts and will hopefully shape their friendship for the rest of life.  That could be my optimism speaking, but I guess we will see.

** I'll write my thoughts on weaning another time (hopefully by then I'll know what I think), but in the middle of processing some of my nursing frustrations with Chris, he told me to read this blog post, Still Dulce de Leche:  On Choosing not to Wean, Again. **



Sunday, November 4, 2012

the lost art of Cry It Out (in someone else's arms)

Saf at 3 weeks saying, 'no more pictures please.'

My son, at 27 months, is just starting to semi-regularly produce tears.  They still don't run down his cheeks, but at least they well up in his eyes now and then.  My daughter has had tears welling and running since 8 weeks, like most other babies.  I never worried about my son's tearlessness since his eyes otherwise seemed normal; my friends joked that it was our parenting style, never letting him be upset enough to actually produce tears.  It's true we don't let our children cry alone, but our children do cry with us present.  And they Cry.  And CRY.  And CA-RYE!!!!!!

Crying is good for us sometimes, no?  Do you ever feel like you need to have a good cry?  I've been feeling that recently - my post-baby hormones are betraying me and the things that usually release my sobs (my husband asking me to help him with the dishes, for instance) haven't been doing the trick.  Crying feels really good, a language of it's own that can express sadness, grief, anger, frustration; it's healthier than swearing at your spouse or punching a hole in the wall.  (I've possibly done the first, but not the second.)  

Our children need to cry, too.  I don't believe babies and toddlers cry for "no reason", but I do think sometimes they need to process or vent or release big emotions and crying is the best way to do it.  They aren't hungry, wet or in pain - they just need to cry.  Crying alone harms the child and their attachment to care-givers, but crying-in-arms is a different story. I remember holding my son when he was about 6 months old in my lap, looking him in the eyes as he screamed for about ten minutes.  I had just read this article, about crying for comfort, and rather than distracting him from his emotions I engaged him there; when he was finished he cuddled into my chest, at peace, and that night he slept surprisingly well.  I lost my fear of his big emotions then, and I'm still not afraid (although I do find them inconvenient sometimes, especially when large groups of strangers are staring).

My daughter, nearly 10 months old, sometimes seems to need to cry in my arms for a few minutes before she falls asleep.  She will be obviously tired and I'll take her for a nap.  I'll offer her "nai-nai" in the rocking chair which she will refuse, desperate to stay awake.  I'll hold her close and rock her for 2-3 minutes and she will cry there with me.  Then she will nurse quickly to sleep.

I was a sensitive teenager.  I cried very easily, especially if someone in authority was unhappy with me.  My highschool basketball coach was a great person and excellent coach.  Over the four years I played for him, he took our team from a very much losing record to a very much winning record.  He yelled a lot in the process, and especially in my first couple of years on the varsity team I really struggled with that.  I probably cried at some point during most practices and every game.  Yes, crying while running down the court, or waiting for the girl I had fouled to shoot her free throws.  It must have been excruciating for people to watch me try and hold in my tears, which was nearly impossible, teenage hormones and all.

thanks, husband, for digging up this photo.  it's really great.
I would often cry after games, even when we had won.  There was something I wish I had done better, or something my coach or teammate had said that stung my uber-sensitive heart.  And you know what my mom would do?  She would hold me in her rocking chair, all 150 sweaty pounds of 17 year old me.  And she would let me cry there, in her arms.  I often ask myself in parenting, "What would my mom do?"  She would definitely let me cry in her arms, no matter how big or old or supposedly mature I was.  I still call my mom crying (although admittedly it has been a long time since she's rocked me.  Maybe when we visit over Christmas? ;)  She's honoured to be invited in to that vulnerable place where I've lost control and my sobs flow free.

It's hard to cry in front of people, isn't it?  I recently asked our power company to give us some kind of financial grace when a leak (we didn't know about) caused our hot water bill to sky rocket.  The woman on the phone kindly declined and the tears started to flow - I quickly said, "Okay, goodbye" and hung up, lest she feel bad for her message-bearing.

It was also difficult to cry in front of my friendboy and fiance (now husband).  And "in front of" I mean in real space but also through cyberspace, as most (maybe 80%?) of our communication when friend or dating was through email and Skype or phone calls.  During our three month long distance engagement I had a lot of body image stuff surface and it was dark.  It was ugly.  I was embarrassed, hesitating to admit my fears and struggles and low self-esteem as it surprised me, I deemed it unattractive, I wanted to shove it down.  But I couldn't shove it, it was that big.  One conversation, probably a couple hours of internet time in, we were talking about our impending marriage day (and night) and I had this huge sob welling up from way down deep.  "I need to go", I said.  "I need to cry."  

Chris encouraged me to cry with him there, he wanted to hear and be present.  I insisted I needed to hang up.  "Do we do that, becca?  Do we just hang up on each other when we are upset?"  I did.  And I ugly cried into my pillow alone, disconnected from the man who was preparing to share the totality of his life with me.  It was too vulnerable, I couldn't go there with him, into the dark and unknown of my tears.  When I was done, I called him back and apologized.  I wanted to get there, to that space where we share it all.

Our early months of marriage were full of tears.  When it wasn't money issues it was the loss of our first baby, a loss that I cried about for many, many months.  I had to learn to let Chris in to those tears as my instinct was to cry alone.  If I would have walked that grief independently I would have forced a huge chasm in our new marriage.  For us to survive as us, I had to let him in.  It was very hard and often he wouldn't even know what exactly was going on or was wrong or what had triggered the onslaught of emotion, but he would stay there with me.  As I laid face-down in our bed wailing, he laid there next to me.  He would stroke my hair and maybe whisper prayers or maybe do nothing at all but listen and validate my sanity with his presence.

And it's not just our spouse, but we need our friends to witness our big emotions and tell us we are okay.  The most healing spaces for me in grief have been with people to listen to me cry, pass me tissues and accept how my face gets red and my nose drips snot and my eyes stay very small for hours after.  Letting people in, to share and minister prayer and encouragement and even just to listen has saved me from having a trauma-induced bitter heart that lives in a constant state of crisis. 

Our culture pushes for babies and toddlers who are independent:  they can fall asleep alone, pick themselves up after a tumble, handle bad dreams in bed without a cuddle, and let mom and dad leave without a tearful display.  This makes our lives as parents easier for sure, and people genuinely think it benefits the child in the long-run.  They will be able to self-soothe, to handle themselves in public and not be so dependent on parents or carers or friends for comfort.  They can go it alone and be content.  But I wonder if we actually spend so much of our lives un-learning this independence that doctors and pastors told our parents was so important for us.  We find it hard to open up, to share our hearts in vulnerable ways, we carry shame over our tears rather than freedom.  We move into relationships and marriage with our boxes half-packed, no one is trust-worthy enough for our heavy bags of secrets.  We struggle with intimacy in relationships, we run away when people get too close to our real, insecure, needy selves.  We want our toddlers to be independent, but don't we long for teenagers who will reject the false comforts of sex, pornography, alcohol and self-harm because of their ability to openly communicate with us?

We also struggle to be open with God about how things really are with us.  We hide our fears under proclamations of trust and "God's will", we bandage our broken hearts up tight and pretend things are the way they are meant to be.  The sun's still shining, isn't?  It is well with my soul.  Except it's not: I'm angry, disappointed and confused.  We think creation's groaning in labour pains is for the faithless, and that is not us.  

The truth is, the depth to which we are honest with our pain with God and each other, the openness with which we will cry and ramble and pray in front of others, that's the depth to which real comfort can come.  It's comfort that finds all of our attempts at self-soothing shallow, a comfort that actually heals our hearts wide open and invites us into a future that is good and full of hope. 

I want my children to keep crying in my arms, even if it's about petty things, even when they are bigger than me and covered in sweat still in their basketball uniform.  Healthy self-control of emotions will come when they are ready, but I never want them to hide their true hearts for shame of being found unworthy.  And when they cry publicly in their toddler-esque meltdowns, I want to take it as a challenge to share my own tears with others in a way that feels vulnerable but I know will set us free.  I want to re-kindle the lost art of cry-it-out, but in someone else's arms.


I highly recommend this fascinating clip from Dr. Gordon Neufeld on the importance of children attaching to their parents rather than to their peers.



And now I must go clean my kitchen.  Yes, I must.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

in search of the elusive whales (what we need is here)

I cried almost every day of my honeymoon.

I love telling people that, especially in front of my husband, who just smiles at the sweet memories we share from those early days of marriage.  I didn't cry because of him, per se, but more because of us.  Us together, sharing money and space and money and sleep and money.  Yes, mostly money.  There was me waking at 6am to hand-wash his shirts and underwear and hang them all over the huge bathroom in our extremely nice hotel rather than let him send it to the hotel staff to wash for $7 an item; there was me sobbing on a bench in Victoria because I didn't want to go for the $55 per person afternoon tea for which my eager husband had just made us reservations.  We've come a long way in our nearly 3 1/2 years of money-sharing.  Yes, we have.

There was also our whale-watching excursion.  The first thing Chris wanted to do upon landing at our beach side fancy hotel (seriously, we stayed here, thanks to some generous family) was to visit the concierge (I had never heard that word before, you say it with an accent) and find out about seeing whales.  I'm fairly neutral towards animals, my husband can get obsessed.  Whales, his dream come true, to be on the water seeing the majestic creatures dancing and jumping around us, oh my goodness.  It was $70 per person (cue the tears) but you were guaranteed to see the whales, and how could I break his heart?  Truly, this is what my husband was born for.  He almost became a marine biologist, you know.

So we went.  The early May Canadian coast was fairly chilly.  We were given red waterproof snowsuits and met the other folks on our tour - another newly wed couple from the lower mainland.  As we were just about to get on the boat my husband turns me to me and says, "Oh, I forgot to take my pill.  Sometimes I get a bit seasick."  Then he popped in some motion sickness meds and we boarded the big zodiak.  As we took off Chris' face started to fall, slowly, onto my shoulder - and the quiet moaning began.  He didn't feel very good.  The freezing wind and water whipped us, Chris continuously threatened to vomit while trying to stay awake and the other couple joyfully laughed and stood together at the front of the boat, taking in the view as we zoomed past islands covered with sea lions and eventually found our whale.




By that point my husband didn't even care, he felt so sick.  In fact it is the only time I have actually heard my husband, in reference to a living creature, say "I don't care."  He wanted to go back to the hotel.  I had to find the situation comical, or I would have started to cry, of course.  $140, wasted. The whale didn't really do much anyway and it's breath smelled pretty bad which increased Chris' misery.

---

This morning we left before 8 to see whales again, this time from the shore, close to our home.  Many friends saw many whales yesterday and my husband was nearly green with envy (rather than seasickness, fortunately) as we have yet to see any whales in the three years we've lived here.  We drove to a great look out spot with our offspring in tow ready for our whales.  We watched.  And kept watching.  But whales, we did not see.

I felt slightly sad for my husband, squinting and hoping towards the oceanic horizon, but I knew the view itself was breath-taking enough, with or without smelly whales.




I was reminded of a passage in Annie Dillard's "Teaching a Stone to Talk"; she writes of driving five hours inland, determined to see a rare total eclipse:
"When the sun appeared as a blinding bead on the ring's side, the eclipse was over.  The black lens cover appeared again, backlighted, and slid away... I remember now:  we all hurried away.  We were born and bored at a stroke.  We rushed down the hill.  We found our car; we saw the other people streaming down the hillsides; we joined the highway traffic and drove away.  We never looked back.  It was a general vamoose, and an odd one, for when we left the hill, the sun was still partially eclipsed - a sight rare enough, and one which in itself, we would probably have driven five hours to see.  But enough is enough.  One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief.  From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home."

 Sometimes the whales or the person or the change we long to see can keep us from being enraptured by the beauty which is now, which is right here.  I imagine my children older, fantasize about the nights when they will sleep unassisted, days when I can write without numerous interruptions.  But those days will be hard too, won't they?  And then what will I wait for?  When we do catch a glimpse of the whales in the distance, it's often not quite what we hoped, never as fulfilling as we imagined and our desire is quickly for something else or some other time.  We will never catch it really, that missing piece, even when we think we have.  What we need is here.

  

 




What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

- Wendell Berry





Saturday, October 20, 2012

words on the interwebs worth your time

A few blogs I've read this week that I emailed to my husband, I thought I'd share with you as well - enjoy!

How to Annihilate your Out-Group (like Jesus did) - Dr. Kelly Flanagan at Untangled

(We love this guy - I'd very much recommend subscribing to his blog.)

from the post:  "I have good news. Great news.
Humanity is the last in-group you will ever need to join.
And the membership application is simple. Because you already belong. All you have to do is embrace it. Decide you are going to end your attempts to fix your shame with competition and victory and dominance. Realize it doesn’t work. Decide you will silence the ghosts in another way."

Walking to Church: Sometimes the Hard Thing is the Force that Makes the Beauty - Micha at Deeper Story

(Sometimes we dream of having a place with a backyard and a fence but this post made me appreciate how much time we spend at parks and friends' houses and generally roaming the streets :)

from the post:  "We moved back to San Francisco two weeks ago after being away for a little over a year. And there’s something I have been noticing in these short weeks back in urban living: This overwhelming city is beginning to feel small.
There’s something about being forced outside—outside the house, outside the (now nonexistent) backyard, outside the car—with your kids, that makes you talk to people. When there is no yard, you go to the neighborhood park and you interact with kids and parents and caregivers you never would have met otherwise. When your kids are going crazy in the afternoon and there’s nowhere for them to play, you head out for a walk in the neighborhood and see what you can find. You talk to the old lady with the cute white dog that she has crowned, “Princess of the Castro!”"


from problem to solution: practical ideas for an ethical halloween  - Kristen at Rage against the Mini-van

(We live in Australia and Halloween isn't as a big a thing as in North America, but this post is very practical concerning holidays and chocolate and how we can take steps (whether small or large) towards supporting fair-trade products.)

from the post:  "For our family, the response to learning this has been to limit our chocolate purchases to fair-trade chocolate, which is a system that ensures that workers are paid and treated fairly.  I believe that our purchases have the biggest impact on corporate change.  The chocolate companies are well aware of the human rights abuses in the farms they are buying from, but unfortunately it is the profitability that is driving the ship, not ethics."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our hearts heal wide open.


October 15th:  Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  My husband has had a reminder in his calender for the past few years - it was one of his survival skills with his newlywed bride being slowly covered over by sadness.

The first weeks of marriage was a celebration of finally togetherness after 21 months of long-distance loving through a thousand emails and equal hours on Skype.  And all of that celebrating made us a baby.  We were shocked and down right scared by the two blue lines and the future-altering reality they represented.  We cried.  We turned to one another.  We invited God to come.  And everything changed. 

We became that new creation; the two became one and then so quickly three - it was a whole new world out there, our eyes were awake and we relinquished the control we never really had in the first place.  That baby changed us, changed the whole world for us.  We are grateful to this very day.

And as abruptly as he came, he was gone - our three back to two with this fresh black hole of pain and bleeding and secret ache.
 

The seasons changed and healing came through raw confession and community, we brought two more babies into the world and they sleep in my bed now as I write.  But there was something so desolate and god-forsaken in those bleeding hours.  It resurfaces when I hear the breaking news of unforseen tragedy in the lives of people I know and don't know.

We are dreaming and twirling and preparing and hoping and suddenly the wave of chaos crashes; those of us left standing are disoriented in this new terrible world and we can't get home.  Even in the past few weeks friends close by and online have suffered these shocking waves of loss and pain:  the ends of precious pregnancies, tragic car accidents, bad news from doctors - we are all affected at some point, our own wounds gaping or we're trying to bandage the people we love.  The world is much more dangerous than they told us, spinning off it's axis again today.  What is gravity's part, where is God's will, who the hell is responsible for all of this?  We blame ourselves, our enemies, we blame God - but none of that stops the bleeding, we are all covered in it.

We can let our experiences of pain harden our soil, put up our fences, we can cover our ears.  Avoid pain at all costs, stop risking in love for friend, neighbour and self.  We piously throw up our hands to fate or the will of the gods, or just slowly retreat behind shiny smiles, empty eyes and skinny jeans.  I'm fine.  I told you I'm fine.  Let's just get back to how things used to be.

Or we get honest.  We get loud.  We wear black on the street corner holding signs that rage against all that is wrong in this moment, in the world.  We cry and swear and let the labour pains of creation finally find a body in our own; we bear them with her, we groan and writhe.  We might say things off the record, things we don't mean, things we will regret.  God can handle it.  Love and truth have nothing to fear.

Instead of desperately plastering our heart back together we let it go, be split wide open in grief and disappointment and loss.  And our hearts eventually begin to heal that way - wide open, with room for the world.  Our grief, as painful and tragic and devastating as it is, can set us free to love in powerful new ways. 

Most women who have lost babies in pregnancy are amazed at how it welcomes them into this underground world of other mothers with their own stories.  You rarely hear of these babies until you've lost your own and then it all spills out, giving these mothers a space to share and you're not in this alone anymore.  This isn't comparison, it's solidarity.  Our hearts heal wider together, and there is room for more.

The only time my heart was broken by a boy, the woman who carried me through  those trenches had just spent the year in the shadows of her own broken relationship.  She understood, she had room for my fear, she had time for my rambling and my sobbing.  Her heart had been enlarged and she welcomed me in.  She died in a tragic car accident (that I survived) the next month.  Her mother told me later that in walking with me through my heartache my friend finally felt as though she had been healed, defiant flowers calling her winter's bluff.

I don't believe there are "good reasons" why bad things happen, but I do believe that grief and pain can change us in really beautiful ways sometimes.  That's not vindication or explanation, but it's the way of a vulnerable God who suffers with us, first one at the scene, hands covered in our blood; God with the widest heart of all.

--------------------------------------------
"We wait for you to ache" -- Walter Bruegemmann

With the energy we have,
we begin the day,
waiting and watching and hoping.

We wait,
not clear about our waiting.
But filled with a restlessness,
daring to imagine
that you are not finished yet--
so we wait,
patiently, impatiently,
restlessly, confidently,
quaking and fearful,
boldly and daring.

Your sovereign decree stands clear
and we do not doubt.
We wait for you to dissolve in tender tears.
Your impervious rule takes no prisoners,
we wait for you to ache and hurt and care over us
and with us
and beyond us.

Cry with us the brutality
grieve with us the misery
tremble with us the poverty and hurt.

Attend to us -- by attending in power and in mercy,
remake this alien world into our proper home.

We pray in the name of the utterly homeless one,
even Jesus.

Amen.



Sunday, September 30, 2012

lyrics in the night

My husband typed this into our phone while unable to fall asleep one night this week.  His creative juices flow easiest into late hours, but our children like to create in the early hours so it's rare these days to receive a gem like this.  He makes me smile.

//

a folky song...

v1
i found me the daughter of a reverend
to make for me a biker bride
18 speeders purchased from kmart
and matching helmets keep us looking smart

pc
but now instead of doing skids
we walk about the streets with kids

c
on our backs,
or on our fronts
riding side by side in pram
holding hands,
running loose
bicycles are not in use

br
and one day we will ride again
one day we will ride again
baby seats installed with help of friends
borrowed bike pump fill our tires by hand
we will ride again

//

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

on being awake (there's no going back now)

maybe it's the man overdosing on heroin in our little parking lot at 3pm,
my children and i the first ones on the scene.

maybe it's the young guy in his fancy car, all business suited up pulling over for her,
half a shirt and baggy jeans, invisible shackles and not a hint of 'pretty woman' glamour-
and i'm not trying to judge him but i'm guessing he's the demand and she's the supply.

maybe it's the conflict, inevitable in intimacy, whether friend or lover (or both),
i'm faced again with my selfishness, my desert-heart and lack of everything good
(at least it feels that way sometimes).

maybe it's just my son's voice at 6am, offering a slice of playdough pizza
when all i really want to do is scribble in a notebook, drink my coffee, read blogs on my phone or
climb into bed and go back to sleep.

so very much of me just wants to go back to sleep:

to the comfy pillows of life before, when things made sense and it all equalled out
like my eighth grade algebra and the shiny fairness found in Proverbs, of
True Love Waits and it will be easy, follow God close and you'll be happy, healthy and wise;
the world in black and white and a bit of red, and I didn't know how everyone toils and spins and rages and weeps, i couldn't sense the blood on my own hands, it was all 'us' and 'them'.


i'm not sure what exactly woke me up, it was sometime in 2002 while i studied in the Middle East and it could have been the Kurdish village in northern Sy.ria opening their homes to us wandering off the bus hoping for some breakfast and free arabic lessons, or studying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in cities and refugee camps over tiny tea cups, white beards and so many years of hurt.  it was my first experience in community with people who called me out and challenged my self-preservation, who sang my songs with me and held me as i cried again and again.  (some of these people are still in my life in such foundational ways.)  yes, i think it was 2002, I was nearly twenty and my feet were always dusty.

and since then i've been awake.  there are many, many moments (strung together for months sometimes) where i fight it, staunch in my grogginess, apathetic and refusing to admit the morning light.  but it's too late–my two year old knows its morning; he's woken up the baby.

there's no going back now.

as i embrace consciousness there is much pain and darkness, in myself, my neighbours (my street, our world).  so, so much.  but there is goodness waiting, there is grace.  there is freshly pressed coffee and mama-cuddles, the hope of honest conversations and my own conversion once again.  there is imagination and people power movements, forgiveness and mercy that covers justice.  and on the third morning, there is resurrection no matter how deadly the darkness, no matter how abandoned the people.  there is fish and bread on the beach except i'm not the one cooking breakfast and that's always the surprising gift of Jesus,

even when I, like his best friends in his loneliest moment,

just want to go back to sleep.
 
----

i wrote this for SheLoves Magazine's synchroblog on "awake".  what does being awake mean to you? 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

a 'brutiful' day in the neighbourhood

My neighbourhood:  it's where I live, where my husband works, it's where a lot of our friends live.  Some days we don't drive our car at all, we have such close access to people and places that we love.  We've lived here 18 months or so and it's feeling like home.

Glennon Melton, who writes at the brilliantly honest blog Momastery, uses the word 'brutiful' to describe much of life.  Life is beautiful.  And life is brutal.  That's just how it is right now - we can be honest, in the same hours we celebrate and we grieve.

My neighbourhood is brutiful.

The other morning I walked with my two children around these streets.  You know those days where you need to get outside as soon as possible, even before 9 because either the day is so lovely or your children are so snotty-nosed and unhappy?  Yes, both of those, so we went.  And at the very top of the alley near us we found this:
 


Beautiful, hey?  A little garden hung on a chain link fence next to a deserted old service station.  The soil was moist; someone was caring for the flowers and there were greens growing as well.

It's the same alley where, only two weeks before, I saw a man chasing a woman.  I had been watching them as he yelled at her while standing at a phone booth together and she started to walk away.  He followed her, yelling more, and I was alone, just with my baby on my back out walking on a Sunday afternoon.  No one else was really around, so, when I could see her actually jogging away and him following quickly, I called the police.  She wasn't calling for help, but I just couldn't stand by and not do anything, and within a few minutes I heard police sirens, although I couldn't see the man and woman anymore.  Had he noticed the garden as he chased her?

Yesterday afternoon I saw that same woman, tall, lean and exploited, pacing quickly - I'm pretty sure she was waiting for someone to pick her up, to give her money so he could degrade her body like countless people in her life before.  I smiled at her but she was focused and didn't see me.  At least she is still alive.

My neighbourhood is starting to bloom with these quirky shops - the abandoned buildings wearing ancient 'For Lease' signs in their broken windows are hinting at resurrection.  The newest is a vintage clothing store, really cool and with decent prices - yesterday I was walking with my kids and we stared in the windows (it was closed) and I asked Saf which dresses he liked.  (He liked them all.)  A few strides later and Saf yells 'Harow!!' to a woman who smiles at him and answers with matched enthusiasm.  I ask her how she is, I pretend I don't know she's selling her body, I see our common womanness, our shared intrinsic value.   

Sometimes I can't handle the men driving around in their cars, slowing down until they notice the baby on my back.  They are so predictable, drive to the end of our street slowly, make a U-turn and drive back up.  The demand for prostitution is much greater than the supply around here.  I want to flip them off, I call them a pervert under my breath and then confess that they too are worthy of love and belonging, even they have unsurpassable worth.  I know it's true and barely any of me wants to say it, but I do.  Last night my husband and I were walking with our children past the pub on the corner, the one with a 'waitress' on Friday nights.  It was 5pm, still very much light out and I saw her serving the men who were outside in the back, walking in only tiny black underwear with a tray in her hand.  My heart swung between sadness for her and disgust at the men headed in the door, plain old anger at the whole world - that pub is maxed out on Friday nights, a block from my home.

This is the same neighborhood where my new friend left a bag of fruit for me hanging on her door - she was en route to the Middle East on holiday to visit family there and she hadn't had time to drop it at my house, could I please come pick it up.  In the past couple of weeks I've met two new friends at the park, their own babies in tow, and they both gave me their numbers - house numbers, I was welcome to stop over sometime.  And I have, friendship surprising me around the corner again.

Our next door neighbours greet Safran multiple times a day.  He stands on the stairs yelling 'ALAN!!! ALAN!!!' when the white-haired English man isn't there to tell him G'day and ask if he's been a good boy.  (He has.)  Neville, who claimed he couldn't understand my accent although he listened to American country music on the internet a lot, calls Saf his 'little mate'.  The dogs along our alley don't bark at us, even though they are the very loudest and scariest barking kinds of dogs.  I guess that's how you know you're home.

It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, and it's a brutal day again.  A microcosm of the rest of the world I guess, our few streets and the stories that roam them - structures of life and health inextricably intertwined with structures of injustice and exploitation; people who abuse others to medicate their own pain crossing paths daily with those who give love to neighbours at cost to themselves.  It's too easy to yell 'good guys' and 'bad guys' as my own heart shows me I am not too far off the man searching for sex in the middle of the day -the selfishness, the longing for an easy intimacy, sometimes treating people like they exist only for me, the self-hatred and fear of exposure. 

We all need each other to become what we're meant to be - ubuntu - 'your well-being is extremely connected to my well-being'.  I understand this now, on these streets and I see our stories all tangled up together.   The 2 am pub fights, used condoms in the park grass, the misogyny and beautiful exploited women in transcience, my own resistance to forgiveness towards those I love the most - we suffer here together.  Shop owners giving my children bananas, kindness is exchanged over neighbourly moments, a community of friends sharing the daily joy and pain, flower pots hang lively on fences as the morning sun sings mercy - together we are healed.




My son greets everyone we see - his eyes are clear to the beauty.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see the image of God in us all.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

what i'm doing when i'm not blogging.

Justin Bieber at the 2010 White House Easter E...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In an attempt to break my writers block into a million pieces I thought I would just write about things that are filling my life in the past couple of days.

I'm Listening to:

At the moment my husband is sitting on our orangish-red couch ($30 on Gumtree!) playing the guitar and softly singing 'Joy to the World'.  He has a beautiful voice and I imagined every one of my married evenings would be filled with his melodies.  When we were long-distance dating sometimes he'd play songs for me over Skype.  I would cyber-swoon appropriately - lots of romantic emoticons.  The rare evenings we spent together usually involved playing music for and with each other.  He played Sufjan's "The Dress Looks Nice on You" but changed "dress" to "shress" as I almost exclusively wore dresses over jeans at that point in my fashion life.  Sadly our ASBFLDSNNTEO ("actual special best friends living daily and sleeping nightly next to each other") existence has produced only about 2% of the music we imagined.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Children?  Possibly.  And there's some vulnerability about music, especially in the creating, that makes us feel shy of each other - it's one of the remaining frontiers left unexplored for us.  I love when my husband does play to himself in the evening, but I have to pretend that I don't notice or care, or he will stop. :)

What else am I listening to?  We have a playlist on our iPod called "Kids Bop etc" and it's our go-to at the moment.  If my son is ever in a boy band I will completely blame his father.  Saf knows a lot of the words to Justin Beiber's "Baby" and One Direction's "Beautiful".  We're not crazy about the worldview being sung, but the beats are pretty party rockin' and the only place we can handle listening to non-stop proper children's music is in the car.

I'm Doing:

As a kid we'd have semi-formal Olympic competitions in our yard with a few neighbours and somewhere between garbage can+brick stack jumping and 'how many seconds long is your best handstand?' we'd have to also create and perform our best Cheer.  Tonight I wanted to do that again but I could barely recall any of even the most common cheers from Friday night highschool football games.  I tried anyway and Saf was my partner, copying all of my arm, leg and hip movements as if I was gifted and authoritative.  Then we did an impromptu dance routine to my own rendition of "Eye of the Tiger", one of his favorite songs.  Chris laid on the couch smiling and judging us.  Jubee army crawled around trying to ingest paper, as she does.

I went thrift store shopping and grocery shopping ALL BY MYSELF.  It was wonderful and not surprisingly very un-lonely (sorry kids!)  I did spend way too long browsing in the hole-in-the-wall-but-packed-with-designer-labels-for-$8 shop and then had to race through the aisles to grab my groceries but it was totally worth it.  I bought denim shorts, jeans, a pair of shorts for Chris, tights for Jubee (for someday) and a necklace for $24.  And it was all loved by someone already.  That makes me happy and Chris uncomfortable.    

I'm Reading:

Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille.  Whoa.  Blowing my mind.  I picked up a copy in a library bin at the breastfeeding support group (Australian Breastfeeding Association) that I'm apart of.  I'm actually reading it, which says a lot.  Since having children I've only had enough attention span to read blogs - but I'm struggling to put this book down.  I feel many blog posts stirring - if you've read it, what did you think??

I'm Watching:

We had friends over to watch "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" again.  In light of the book I'm reading, which draws parallels between the way we (and our surrounding culture) are parented and our responses to injustice, I have a small stack of questions to ask both Robin Grille and Leymah Gwobee.

Jesus Christ Superstar (film)
Jesus Christ Superstar (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Saturday night we had a couple of friends come over to watch "Jesus Christ Superstar".  Oh my 70's!  I really enjoyed it, especially Jesus' slightly lazy eye and Judas' incredible voice as well as the intense dance moves!  I did fall asleep at the very end, but I didn't want to.  It just happened.  During our intermission for decaf black tea and raspberry-brown sugar muffins we talked about cross-gender friendship, like is depicted between Jesus and Mary.  Dan Brennan's blog on the subject fascinates me. 

We stopped by the beach for twenty minutes today in the early evening.  (Rough life, I know).  We sat on a bench and watched the cold waves crash, the crazy Aussies already in their swimmers (it's barely spring!), surfers and beach roamers - I watched two teenaged lovers make out very passionately.  Chris didn't look, he was too embarrassed for everyone.  That's the difference between me and him.  I almost said something to them as well, except that Chris was right next to me and would have been mortified.  I wanted to say, "don't ruin your life" or something wise like that but I just smiled
as they walked by.  They were oblivious, of course.

I'm Eating: 

Macedonian red capsicum and eggplant relish on crackers.  It's from the little shop up the street and i. can't. get. enough.  I've also had two weekends in a row finding a free-range rottisserre chicken for 1/2 price (don't ask me how long it was sitting there i'm not pregnant so i don't care) and after we devoured the yummy meat (sorry vegetarian friends!!  we are fully back-slidden these days!) I turned the carcass into stock and a very hearty chicken soup ala my dad's recipe.  I'm learning to cook more and more and even enjoying it sometimes.

I'm drinking: 

The most interesting thing I've been drinking lately is saffron coffee in tiny tea cups with my neighbour-friend whose from the Persian Gulf.  We also talked about the oppression of women in her country and mine, misogyny and violence, arranged marriages and advertising.  I love kindred connections between women whose respective media coverage would say it's impossible.  She had me brush up on my Arabic lessons from ten years ago and practice reading like the slowest first grader in the class.  Her 6 year old daughter sat on the floor pointing at pictures for Saf to name.  Jubilee army crawled around trying to ingest paper, as she does.

is this mean?  she liked it (for a few minutes)

first ride in our new (to us) double pram - giggles all the way, although J demanded to be worn on the way home.
The babies are:  sleeping right now.   J has been staying up late this week but tonight she went to sleep soon after her brother.  Last night we only had one wake up between the two of them.  Chris and I were both up at 6:15am with our son because WE FELT RESTED!!!  Usually we have 6-12 wake ups a night although I think Saf is generally waking up less and less.  Maybe.  But whose counting?  (Besides us.)  The good night's sleep was amazing, although we still were late to church and left our house a mess.  mHm.  Obviously sleep deprivation isn't the only thing to blame.  Otherwise the babies are 25 and 8 months this week and just scrumptious.  Saf told me my bobby pins were "buufull" the other day.  All of my mothering is finally paying off:  spontaneous compliments.  

I would love to hear what you've been reading/watching/doing/eating etc - any good blogs I should add to my list?  Any books that you love?  Feel free to leave a comment.  Everyone will be happy then.
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