My Ramadan Baby

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The Islamabad sun, hot and bright, burned down on my mom and I as we walked to the hospital with my first-born – Annie – in a stroller.

It was May of 1987 and it was Ramadan, only a couple of days before the huge Eid celebration that would mark the end of this long month of fasting for Muslims around the world. We had been living and working in Islamabad since January and I was 9 months pregnant with our second child.

After a false start a couple of days earlier, my mom and I headed out to my  regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  After examining me, my doctor said “Sometimes we need to push the horse and cart!” Which was code for “I’m going to give you something to speed up this delivery.” I was more than willing to oblige.

It was a text book induction and just after midnight on May 25th I gave birth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed, fuzzy-headed baby boy. I was smitten.

I wrote about my Ramadan baby 6 years ago, when I was a new blogger. As I reread the piece I wrote, I realized it communicates the story exactly as I remember it, so I have reposted it below in honor of my Ramadan “baby’s” 30th birthday!

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was toward the end of Ramadan and this showed significantly in the absence of staff in the hospital. Earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry aloud that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a pregnant woman in transition (me) and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered, we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

As the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came (and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night) two babies made their way into the world.  The last azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast. At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains.

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a good hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toed, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff in by two’s to see “the white lady who had her husband in with her during the delivery,” something that was unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebis, barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras. This ensured a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. 

We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy which, from a cultural perspective, was a huge thing to acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes – and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.

Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.

Some Thoughts on Parenting and Goodbyes


“All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt but remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive. For a dead heart doesn’t hurt with a goodbye, only a heart alive to others feels the pain of that goodbye, the difficulty of leaving….” From the Goodbye section of Between Worlds page 202

On Sunday we said goodbye to our youngest son at the entrance to Hellenic College, a college that has shaped him through academia,service, friendship, and most importantly – faith. 

We said goodbye in early evening, when the sun still had a long while before it set, reflecting golden rays off of Jamaica Pond. 

We said goodbye to the many years of college that come with five children. We said goodbye to the joy we had in watching a child grow to be a man. We said goodbye to those who came into our lives through him. 

A short while after we said goodbye, he boarded a plane to Albania; from there his plans include travel and study for the next year. We raised our children on travel and the uncertainty that comes with frequent moves, so there is a deep satisfaction knowing that he is choosing to grow through travel. 

Letting go of our children is a series of stages that begins early in their lives. We proudly, but fearfully, watch as they make their way onto buses or across playgrounds, their first venture into a world we can no longer control. Each stage and step gives them a bit more independence until we face the reality that we are ancillary to their adult lives. When we began the journey of parenthood, we created their world, we were their world. But through the years we gradually step aside and let them shine, apart from us. 

And our son – he shines, and it is the work of God. 

The gratefulness I feel is complicated by post-surgery exhaustion and the tears from saying goodbye. It comes in waves, and I try not to overthink, over analyze, instead allowing myself to just be, to feel what I’m feeling without defending or accusing. 

A few years ago I wrote these words, and today I repeat them: 

…the best thing I do as I pack him off and say goodbye is place him where I have placed him countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his beloved children.

While the journey of parenthood continues until the day we die, there are pivotal turning points within that journey – and this is one of them. So I say goodbye with open arms, a glad heart, and tear-filled eyes. Somehow, all of those emotions belong to this moment. 

We become parents with no guarantees. Whether biologically birthing or adopting, parenthood is a journey of faith. Today I get to celebrate. Tomorrow I may have to cry. But that’s what this is: A long journey, a journey of faith. From A Long Journey, A Journey of Faith 

Isolation or Exposure?

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Is God’s protection realized, not through isolation, but through exposure? 

We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when our son Joel slipped and hit his head on the sharp edge of a bed.  He sustained an open cut right above his eye. With Joel screaming and bleeding profusely, we somehow made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile. A kind doctor took care of the wound, sewing it up with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”

I went over the scene in my mind many times. If only I had realized how sharp the edge of the bed was; if only I had made a ‘no jumping on the bed rule.’ If only I had been there. If only…..

At heart was the underlying realization that I wasn’t there to protect my son. I couldn’t protect my son from the fall.

When I look back at parenting small children, that is not the only time when I couldn’t protect. I sometimes take in a sharp breath at the memories.Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

I think about protection; about how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult,etc.; cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We let these babies out of our sight. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

Is the same principle true for life in general? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is God’s protection realized, not through isolation, but through exposure? Do we develop a healthier spirituality through struggle, not through calm? 

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.And fear is bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

Last year my oldest daughter gave me a book by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. The book comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield our kids or ourselves from all the danger, sadness, and hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

Instead, I must hold my arms opened in surrender and humility.  The year will come, just as last year did, with joy and with sorrow. It will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel completely exposed and vulnerable to all that can harm me. But despite the exposure, the potential or probable danger I encounter, I will never be without the presence of God. There is no place that will be hidden from his presence or from his love.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”*

Those many years ago, as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident while the doctor stitched up his wound, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”

I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

[Note – This post was revised from one posted one year ago.]

Foundations & Generations 


We traveled to Los Angeles this weekend for an early Christmas with our son and daughter in law. It was a beautiful weekend with sun and palm trees, the warmer temperatures a welcome change from an arctic freeze. Our East coast cold can chill the bones and the soul. 

From eating our fill of great Mexican food to sharing an early Christmas, we made the most of our short time. 

As parents, we watch our kids exit our homes to create homes of their own with nostalgia and some tears. Memories of toddler kisses and bedtime stories will never completely fade.  Instead they remain, packed into the boxes our minds create for these things. But there is incomparable joy in watching our children “become.” That is what we now get in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.

As I grow older and watch my children enter into adulthood, I ponder a recurring theme of foundations and generations. This circle of life depends on both to be successful. To function well as adults we need secure foundations; foundations of nutrition, of physical nurturing, of spiritual guidance. A healthy new generation will not grow without a solid foundation. 

Moments of connection with adult children are both hopeful and nostalgic, seeing a new generation ‘become’on the foundations of the past. 

When we are in the middle of building foundations, we make mistakes. There are times when we fail our kids and we fail ourselves; times when the foundations seem shaky, built on sand and not on rock. Still other times, by grace we get it right. We shake our heads in disbelief and amazement – it worked! The foundation is strong and secure, the next generation can build on what came before. But only a foolish parent takes full credit, refusing to see that this is all grace. 

We travel back on a lonely Sunday night flight, the plane full of weary travelers, perhaps others like us who have traveled to see a new generation springing from an older foundation. 

I look at the man by my side, and I am so grateful. We’ve navigated some rough waters together, some that threatened to drown us. But they didn’t. Instead we travel together, united in our prayers and love for this next generation. 

And so it is, foundations and generations–as old as the human race, reminding me that our journeys matter. 

To the One Who Got Pregnant too Soon

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I woke with a familiar pressure on my bladder. It was the middle of the night, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I came back to bed in tears.

“I think I’m pregnant.” I whispered to my sleepy husband as I shook his shoulder. “That’s ridiculous” he said as he turned over and fell back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stayed awake. I knew I was pregnant. We had a toddler and a baby who was six months old. I was exclusively breast feeding and hadn’t yet gotten my period back after the pregnancy, so my husband’s response was completely reasonable.

But when you know your body, you know these things. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy, born two weeks earlier than his due date. He was 6 lbs and 10 oz of beauty and joy. But the inbetween time was not so much. People who saw me pregnant would look at me in astonishment and say “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” thinking it was the previous pregnancy gone on too long.

Yes – I actually had given birth to THAT baby. This one was a different one. This one was THIS baby. That one was THAT baby. Sheesh.

There were a few things that I discovered about myself and about other people during that time. I offer them here in this space, knowing that your situation may be different, but hoping that you will feel some nuggets of encouragement.

  1. You owe nobody, I mean nobody, an explanation. When people say things, when they comment about your pregnancy you don’t have to tell them anything that you don’t want to. When they ask if you were planning this, if it was a surprise, if you’re happy …. those are intimate questions, and you don’t have to let people know the answer.There will be people that you can share with and cry with, but the average bystander and acquaintance is not worthy of your explanations. Whether you used birth control or not – it’s none of their business. Whether you were planning this or not – none of their business. Don’t feel any pressure to give people a response.
  2. Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby may be unexpected; your baby may be a surprise — but your baby is absolutely NOT a mistake. Mistakes are supposed to be erased, they are supposed to be corrected. Surprises are unexpected and take some rethinking and adjusting, but ultimately you do adjust. There is a massive difference between a mistake and a surprise.
  3. You need safe people. You need people who will listen to you, judgment free as you rant and rave about your body, your mother-in-law, your oversexed husband, your life in ruins, all of it. You need to be able to say that you want to run away to safe people who know that these feelings will pass. Safe friends who will love you and protect you from a world that feels overwhelming are a gift.
  4. Be okay with asking for help. I made a vow that hurt me for years when I got pregnant unexpectedly. That vow was that no one would ever see me out of control. It was such a mistake. I carried such a heavy burden of having to keep it together. People who knew and loved me knew that I wasn’t keeping it together, but I tried to hide it under the vow that I had foolishly made. When I finally broke free of that, I cried and cried, ending the crying session with a soul-deep sigh.I was finally free to admit my need for others, my need for help. Don’t be like me. Ask for help.
  5. Routine could be your best friend. When you find yourself pregnant and you have a toddler in the house, routine is a wonderful gift. Routine means you can say “No, I’m sorry – I can’t do that. It’s nap time.” Routine builds security in you and your children. Routine gives you time to recharge and drink tea. Routine is not binding – it’s freeing.
  6. Be okay saying “No.” “No – I can’t make a dessert for the women’s brunch.” “No, I can’t chaperone the preschool field trip.” “No, I can’t baby sit your kids.” “No, I can’t work those extra hours.” “No, I can’t fill in for a sick nurse, or a sick Sunday school teacher, or a sick anyone anytime anywhere.” No. No. No. For some reason, I was an easy yes. I remember one time sitting at someone’s house helping her fold her clothes and make apple crisp. Suddenly I thought “This is ridiculous! I’m the one with five kids! I’m the one who needs to fold clothes and make apple crisp – AT HOME! I realized that I needed to put healthy boundaries around my time.
  7. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need everything that western society says they do. They don’t need hundreds of outings, they don’t need a bunch of different play groups. They need you. They need Grandma if she’s around. They need security and safety. Self-actualization is way far away on Maslow’s hierarchy. Don’t worry about it. If play groups help you – well then, have at it. But if they don’t – then don’t worry about “socializing” your child. Believe me, there is a lot of socialization that your kid can do without.
  8. On days when you are so tired, and you just can’t do it anymore, there’s always tea and reading time. Put quiet music on in the background and read to your little ones. Then, put them in their happy places while you read yourself.
  9. One day you will get your body and your sleep back. It won’t be the same, it can never be the same. That’s the price we pay for having these little humanoids who grab our hearts with their vice-like grips and create a gap in our well-oiled shiny armor. But there will come a day when you put on a little-maybe-big(ger) black dress and go out with your true love again. There will come a day when you have a full night sleep. There will come a day when all of your children – even the surprise ones – are potty trained. There will come a time when you watch your own television shows and movies. There will come a time when you miss your kids. But it won’t be for awhile.
  10. Allow people to celebrate for you. You may think this is the worst thing ever, the timing is all wrong, you were going to go back to school to get a masters degree, you had finally lost all your baby weight, your husband is looking for a new job, you just started back to work — there may be all kinds of reasons that you have for not being able to celebrate. But others can celebrate for you. When I arrived in London, unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child, no one in Cairo knew. I hadn’t told anyone. I arrived in London and my best friend met me at the airport. I hugged her and then burst into tears. “I’m pregnant!” “You’re so lucky!” she said. She had had a couple of miscarriages and she knew what it was to be gratefully pregnant. It was perfect. No – I didn’t feel lucky. No – I felt totally overwhelmed. But her reaction was so wonderfully spontaneous and lovely that I began to feel a measure of hope with her response.

You could still be wondering why you are pregnant when you are in labor and about to deliver the baby – but once you see that tiny, little person, you will be in utter awe and the heartburn will be gone.

So to you who got pregnant too soon – I hear you. I’m with you. You join the multitudes of us around the world in that special “I got pregnant too soon and I realize I can’t control my life club.” It’s a club that humbles you and grows you up quickly. No one intends to join the club, but once you’re in it, you realize that it’s a pretty great club after all.

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

No Easy Answers – A Life Overseas


Readers, my mom and dad were in the country of Pakistan and raised five of us in that context. 

Yesterday on A Life Overseas my mom shared a poignant story on children, choices, and ultimately learning to trust God with our kids. Would you join us there? 
I have included the beginning of the piece here.

Do YOU think it’s right to take innocent children to those heathen countries?”


The small elderly woman confronted me with the question. Ralph and I were newly appointed missionaries hoping to go to India. I glanced down at my tummy- had she guessed I was pregnant? I didn’t think it showed yet. I likely mumbled something about God’s will and tried to change the subject. 

We did take that innocent child with us to Pakistan, not India, and in the next 10 years we had four more. We were 20-somethings, full of hope and excitement and ideals. God in His mercy hid the future with its pain and struggle and tears of raising children overseas from us.

Not too many years later it had become clear to us that for most missionaries’ children in Pakistan boarding school was a part of that future. Our mission actively supported the founding of Murree Christian School in the northern mountains, eight hundred miles from where we lived. Five children from our mission were enrolled in its first year of existence.

“How can the Lord expect such an enormous sacrifice of us?” I asked myself. “It’s too much. I can’t do it. It can’t be right.” I struggled, asking how this could be God’s will for parents to send such young children away from home.
Eddie would start first grade in my home town during our first furlough. This timing put off our painful decision for a year. But God’s call to Pakistan was very clear to both Ralph and me. Did that call have to mean sending our children away at such a tender age?

In February 1959 Ralph went off to Karachi to arrange our furlough travel leaving me at home with the three children, behind the brick walls that surrounded our tiny courtyard. The Addleton family (Hu, Betty and their two little boys) were the only other foreigners in that small town in the desert and suggested we all go to the canal ten miles away for a picnic. Eddie was so excited that we were going to travel on the Queen Mary from England.
“I’m going to sail my Queen Mary in the canal,” he said, showing me the long string he had tied to a nail in the bow of his small wooden boat.

A couple of hours later, he stood at the edge of the canal, throwing his boat into the water and pulling it back. I kept an eye on him, but he was such a careful little boy. He would never fall in – Stan (his younger brother) might, but not Ed. A jeep driving along the dirt canal road, raised clouds of dust, and we checked the whereabouts of each of the children. Assuring they were all safe, we adults sipped mugs of coffee.

I looked around again just as the jeep passed us. Eddie was gone! I couldn’t see him anywhere. I jumped up and called his name, only to see his boat floating down the canal. Hu Addleton dove in, swam to the middle and began treading water, feeling the bottom with his feet. Bettie gathered up the little ones and the picnic things loading them into the Land Rover. I stood, helpless beside the canal. The water was so muddy, the current so swift. How could Hu possibly find my little boy in that murky water?

Then Hu called out, “I’ve found him!” He dove under and came up holding Eddie’s limp body. He handed Eddie up to me and somehow I knew what I had to do – that morning waiting for the Addletons to arrive, I had re-read a Readers’ Digest article about what was then a new method of artificial respiration, called “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” Eddie’s face was purple. I cleaned mud and sticks out of his mouth, before turning him onto his stomach to see a gush of water from his mouth. Laying him on his back, I started breathing into his mouth. Hu knelt beside us on that grassy canal bank praying loudly, begging God to give us back our son. How many minutes past, I didn’t know….

Read the rest here

Thanking you for joining us to read this poignant, personal story! 


Summer Fun Ideas that Promote Sanity and Potentially a Wider View of the World

These are ideas for (mostly) free stuff that can happen anywhere in the world. Teenage daughters should take note.

Go for a walk.

Create a scavenger hunt in your house, backyard or courtyard.

Make playdoh. Play with playdoh.

Brainstorm strange flavours of pancakes…make the top three strangest even if it means making up the recipes!

Make window paint. Paint on the windows!

Bubble bath!

Plan an at home spa day: make fancy drinks, give massages, do manicures and pedicures, put cucumber slices on your eyes, make homemade facial masks.

Go camping in your living room, or backyard, or courtyard!

Go for a picnic!

Make cards or postcards. Mail them to someone who might need a burst of joy!

Colour or paint.

Have ice cream Sundaes for supper.

Choose books to read that are written by International authors.            http://www.nypl.org/blog/2014/07/22/around-world-childrens-books

Work on a puzzle. (Puzzles can be expensive…but I buy them at thrift stores or garage sales. It’s true you don’t know if all the pieces are there but you’ll never know unless you do the puzzle!)

Watch an old western TV show or a Bollywood movie without the sound. Choose characters and dream up the dialogue as you go!

Play a board game but not monopoly. Monopoly causes family drama. Every time. These days we like Ticket to Ride, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, Probe.

Sidewalk chalk art!

Visit a pet store and pretend it’s a zoo!

Start a family book club: Each person share for 10 minutes about the book they’re reading. Serve cheese and crackers and lemon squash!

Have a water fight –with squirt guns or water balloons or spritzer bottles.

Throw a party—just because! Blow up balloons, hang paper chains or streamers, mix      juice with sprite and pour it in fancy glasses, invite friends over! Play silly party games (pin the tail on the monkey, upset the fruit basket, charades).

Create a fitness challenge in your front yard! Pull out the timer and see who can get            through it fastest, with their eyes closed, with their arms behind their backs, on one foot etc.

Make cookies or brownies with a secret ingredient!

Turn on some classical music and take turns telling the story of the movie the music            is a sound track for.

Pretend you’re a tourist in your own town. Go on a walking tour of a part of town you’ve never been to before. Try a local restaurant you’ve never tried.

Find a new recipe for an odd or interesting snack. Make it!

Set up paints and paper and watch an episode of Sister Wendy on DVD or on Youtube –A TCK in her own right.

Hand each kid a roll of masking tape—send them outside for an hour to see what they might make!

Read aloud from a really good book!

Try some games that kids in other countries play. Google it! There are tons of ideas out there. Here’s a simple spot to start if you have younger kids:    http://beafunmum.com/2012/11/games-from-around-the-world/

Create a new beverage! What would chai mixed with lemonade be like? Or Orange Fanta with orange sherbet?

Make a pillow fort. Make a really big pillow fort!

Pull out the scissors, construction paper, a pile of old newspapers or magazines and             the glue: Collage!!

Visit an international food store. Choose a snack from some place faraway that you’ve never had before!

Visit the Aquarium Supply Store near you and look at the fish.

Hang a white sheet from the side of your house or garage and use a projector to watch a movie. Make popcorn. Serve root beer floats.

Geocaching—see if that’s a thing where you live. Try it with friends or family.

Borrow kayaks or canoes from friends and explore waterways near you.

Presuming someone in your family has a smart phone have a selfie competition. Make a duck face, a sad face, a I’ve just lost my pet face, an ecstatic face, an oh no my ice cream is melting face.

Play Chopped or Cupcake Wars at home in your own kitchen.

Pick a country—plan a pretend trip there. Research where you’d go, where you’d stay, how you’d get there. Rent or download a movie that features that country. Check out books from the library about it. Make a meal or a snack from that country (google it!). Do you know someone from that place or someone that’s been there? Invite them over and ask them to tell you about it.

Climb a tree.

Fly a kite.

Visit your local zoo.

Get multiple copies of a one act play. Or make copies of a segment from  Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Host a reader’s theatre complete with props and costumes.

Sit down as a family with a very large piece of butcher-block paper. Make a family history timeline.

Invite friends over for a joke telling night. Each guest brings their best ice cream topping and their best joke. Dish up the ice cream and prepare for the belly laughs.

With the help of YouTube learn a Bollywood dance!

Sit down with a stack of thank you cards. Think of random people that live thankless   lives. Send them a card. Do this with a friend or with your family.

Set up a lemonade stand. Use the money you make to do something frivolous as a family.

Get out a map. Pick a place within a 50 mile/100 kilometer radius. Go for a drive.

 

Explore this town or place as a tourist might. Take pictures.

Summer Survival Tips– Part II

 School is about to get out here in Kansas. For many moms that’s a sweet joy. They anticipate leisurely time with their children, afternoons at the pool, evenings in the park. For the rest of us summer is a stir-fry of a wide range of emotions. We feel joy, panic, loss of routine, guilt, anticipation, dread. These are the moms I have in mind as I write this. I am that mom.

 This is the second in a short two-week series with tips on how to successfully survive summer. For the first half of the list click here

I’ve had several moms contact me this week. The relief that they’ve expressed that they’re not alone in the deep and wide emotions they experience in their maternity is palpable. The notion that there are others out there that might also need help in surviving summer allowed them to exhale and breath a little freer. We are in this together!

  • Cultivate a creative hobby

When you have some down time avoid the temptation to always turn on your own screen. There’s certainly a place for that. But I think it’s also important for our souls to cultivate hobbies that restore and rejuvenate. That comes through creativity and creative expression: paint, needlepoint, woodwork, restoring an old piece of furniture, cross-stich.

  • Model self care

Your kids need you to look after yourself. It will be much easier for them to learn to do this as adults themselves if they’ve seen the adults in their childhood do it first. It’s ok to tell your kids no. It’s ok to say that you need some down time. It’s ok to tell them that you’re tired and you need to lie down on the couch for a few minutes. Even little kids can be taught to play quietly while mommy rests.

  • You are not responsible for the happiness of your child

You can set up great activities, you can provide safe structures and routines, you can ensure good nutrition but you are not responsible for the ways your child chooses to respond.

  • Be present

When my children were younger they weren’t competing for my attention. I didn’t have a smart phone that tempted me to quick check email or Facebook or twitter or Instagram. I do know the magnetic pull now though. It’s so easy, and it feels so important, to check in with my phone. I don’t know what the answer is but I know from the moms and dads I’ve watched in airports or church foyers or grocery stores or at the park that kids suffer from an “absent” parent. Adelaide’s choir teacher likes to say at concerts, “please turn off your phones or devices that make sound. Your kids can see from the stage the under glow of your nose if you’re on your phone and they know what you think is important.” It’s true. I wonder if it wouldn’t be helpful to have a planned moment or two during your day where you check your phone but otherwise plan on ignoring it. You might have to turn off your notifications. Maybe put your phone away until it rings with an actual phone call! I know this isn’t easy but I really wonder if it might not be critical to the emotional health of your children to know that there parent is present.

  • One activity a day is more than plenty

There’s a notion out there that says that kids need to be occupied from sunrise to sunset with planned activities– play dates, art classes, trips to the museums or the zoo, swimming lessons, crafts, yoga classes. All of those things are good things but it is possible to plan your kid’s life to death (theirs, yours, and the activity in question’s!). Years ago I found something online that simplified expectations in regards to activities but for the life of me I couldn’t find it today. The author suggested a rough weekly guide: Make it Monday; To the Library Tuesday; Wildcard Wednesday; Service Thursday; Road trip Friday. I’ve seen other ideas online that help simplify things as well. Come up with your own…as long as it gives you permission to extend grace to yourself, and freedom for spontaneous fun, it’ll work!

  • Down time is good time

I know I don’t have to say it but downtime is really good for you and for your kids. An unscheduled day seems longer. A free afternoon gives kids opportunities to dream and imagine and relax. They need that. You need that. Resist the guilt and the pull that says you need to plan out every minute of every day. Don’t do it!

Summer will not last forever. Summer will pass into autumn; autumn will yield to winter and winter will give into spring. Take deep breaths, abandon your expectations, allow your days to be pockmarked with joy and giggles. Find another parent who honestly admits her heart. Live in the here and now. Welcome the miracles of the mundane. We will get through this together. We will survive summer!

 

A Note to Moms who Work Outside the Home:

You women are amazing! Here are a couple of things I want to say to you in particular:

  1. Learn to marinate your soul in a daily GRACE wash. You are a good mother. Your mothering is broader than this summer.
  2. Arrange good childcare for your kids. Do what needs to be done to provide safe and healthy care for each of your children. It might look different for each kid each summer.
  3. Communicate that plan to your kids without apology.
  4. Don’t skimp on self-care and rest and adult conversation. This is vital to you continuing on in your mothering role with any amount of joy!

 

Surviving Summer!


In this two part series Robynn suggests ways to successfully survive summer! 

School is about to get out here in Kansas. For many moms that’s a sweet joy. They anticipate leisurely time with their children, afternoons at the pool, evenings in the park. For the rest of us summer is a stir-fry of a wide range of emotions. We feel joy, panic, loss of routine, guilt, anticipation, dread. These are the moms I have in mind as I write this. I am that mom.

  • Gauge your expectations

I think it’s really important to think through your expectations for the summer. Are you expecting some lazy days? Are you hoping to get a lot of home projects done? Is this the time you’ve set aside to teach your kids to cook? What’s your energy level like? Do you need to plan in extended quiet times? Is your family planning on traveling this summer? Think it through. Be honest with yourself. Schedule a family meeting. Communicate with one another what you’re hoping for from this summer. Monitoring expectations in your own heart, but also in the hearts of your family members is key to summer success. Expectations can dash and disappoint or they can serve to create anticipation and joy.

  • Grace, Grace, Grace!

This is your summer. This is the summer you’ve been given. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It can be as unique and interesting as you and your family. You can nap, or run, or hide in your bedroom for a few yours every other day. You can cry when your kids cry, scream when they scream, giggle when they giggle. This summer belongs to you. If a day goes awry —that’s ok. There’s grace wide enough for that. If you have a moment with your teenager that you regret–apologize, receive forgiveness. If you forget that you’re the adult for a spell–shake it off, choose to switch gears. There’s grace deep enough for that too. If nothing get’s done on your summer project list, don’t sweat it! There’s mercy that lingers for today and is new for tomorrow. You have what it takes to do this parenting thing with courage. Just show up. Pull your chair up to the table. Live in the grace that is present in each moment.

  • Resist Pinterest; Stay away from Facebook

I recommend severely limiting any type of social media that fosters comparison and secret maternal competitions. Seeing that your friend took her kids to an art class and the masterpieces they each produced makes your attempts to hand paper and paints and brushes to your kid with instructions to go outside seem minor and ineffectual. Watching your cousin’s vacation videos only serves to stir up envy and shame that you’ll never be able to afford to take your family to the same places. Even pictures of other families playing board games show the laughter and the joy, they don’t reveal the kid that storms off in anger, the older sibling taunting the younger for losing. Ugly moments don’t tend to get Instagrammed!

  • Screens aren’t as evil as they say—everything in moderation

Nothing brings on shame in parents quicker than admitting that their kid spent 5-7 hours watching TV or Netflix that day! I know because I’ve had that day. There’s nothing wrong with a little screen time. With Netflix and cable TV and a library full of movies we have endless options of good programming. Setting limits is probably a good idea but do so with grace and flexibility. Each day has enough worries of it’s own.

  • Books are better than screens

There really is nothing better than a good book. I love having my nose in a good book. I love it when my kids are all reading good books. Most local libraries have summer reading programs but if you don’t have access to a library or if your library doesn’t promote a summer reading program create your own! Set prizes and rewards for reading books. I know, theoretically the book itself is reward enough…but I’m not beyond bribery to help a kid live into that fact. We’ve even paid our older teens to read specific books on managing finances and creating budgets! If you’re stumped to know how to help your child find a good book there are countless lists available on line.

  • Summer Bridge

Early on when we first returned to North America I discovered Summer Bridge workbooks. These workbooks help a child stay tuned into math and reading. They prevent brain paralysis over the summer. Knowing my kids were spending fifteen minutes a day thinking made me feel better as a mom—and really, who are we kidding, that’s what matters!

  • Slow yourself down

This brings us full circle back to attending to our expectations. I think it helps to deliberately slow yourself down. It’s hard to herd cats. It’s hard to rush kids—of any age! Breathing slower. Relaxing your own pace helps significantly.

  • Boredom Busted!

Don’t fall for the Boredom blues! Boredom might likely be an indicator of a lazy brain or a restless spirit. One of my (many!) pet peeves is the line, “I’m bored!” Several summers ago I implemented the Boredom Buster jar. Every time a child of mine lamented, “I’m bored!” I pulled out the jar. In the jar I had written every conceivable chore I could think of –most were jobs I’d been putting off for ages, things I really didn’t want to do myself! Clean the ceiling fans, sweep the front porch, pull dandelions, empty the fridge and wipe it down, wash the stairs. For the first two weeks of that summer I got so much work done! After that the kids paused before singing the old “I’m bored” chorus, they found things to do on their own. My Boredom Buster jar encouraged creativity!

  • Plan in adult conversation

This is key! No matter the ages of your children, it’s vital to your sanity to ensure you’ve planned stimulating adult conversation into your week. Meet another parent and their tribe at the park. If you have older kids is there a mom out there with younger kids that you could connect with? Have your kids babysit her kids while the two of you connect over ice tea or frozen lattes. Plan it out. Knowing this is on the calendar will give you hope in the middle of another conversation about Sponge Bob Square pants or Dora the Explorer.

 

A Note to Moms who Work Outside the Home:

You women are amazing! Here are a couple of things I want to say to you in particular:

  1. Learn to marinate your soul in a daily GRACE wash. You are a good mother. Your mothering is broader than this summer.
  2. Arrange good childcare for your kids. Do what needs to be done to provide safe and healthy care for each of your children. It might look different for each kid each summer.
  3. Communicate that plan to your kids without apology.
  4. Don’t skimp on self-care and rest and adult conversation. This is vital to you continuing on in your mothering role with any amount of joy!

 

Brene Brown Would Have Been Proud


Chloe stood straight and as tall as her 4 foot 11 inch frame would allow for in her black floor length dress. Her ginger colored hair was pulled back into two tight buns on either side of her head. She had deliberate bangs that framed her face. Red circle rimmed glasses balanced on her nose. She looked up at the ceiling and took a breath. I smiled at her, she smiled back—tightly. Clearly she was nervous. The accompanist sat poised on the piano bench. Several of Chloe’s peers sat on the edge of the room. They had already performed in small groups or their vocal solo numbers. One girl balanced a saxophone on her lap. I was the only mother in the room, as far as I could tell. Another adult served as a room monitor of sorts. The room waited.

In the back of the room sat the judge. Papers and music books were piled up around her. She scribbled in pencil on a previous contestant’s paper. The room held its breath and listened as the judge erased something and then brushed the pencil crumbs to the side. She wrote again with brief strokes, circling numbers, making short comments. She was serious and deliberate.

Eventually she looked up at Chloe. Chloe took a deeper breath and introduced her self and the two pieces she would be singing. The pianist played the introduction and Chloe started.

Suddenly, without meaning to, I found my eyes filling with tears.

This situation would have made sociologist, Brene Brown, so proud. I’ve been reading her book, Daring Greatly. Brown talks extensively about shame and ways to develop shame resilience. In Daring Greatly she broadens the conversation on shame to the wider topic of scarcity. “Scarcity is the “never enough” problem.” (p 28) Shame, comparison and disengagement all contribute to the insidious nature of scarcity. Shame is that horrible knowing that something is wrong with me. I’m never enough. I’m flawed. Comparison also breeds shame and contributes to the “never enough” problem. I compare myself to those around me, those on social media, those on TV and I always come up short. I’m certainly not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough. Disengagement is the natural consequence of shame and comparison. I pull back. I choose to not show up. It’s too risky. And I’m not enough.

According to Brown the antidote to scarcity is not abundance. She doesn’t think the opposite of ‘never enough’ is ‘more than you can imagine.’ Instead she believes that the antonym of scarcity is quite simply ‘enough’. She calls that “Wholeheartedness”.

Wholeheartedness…at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks and knowing that I am enough (Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, p29).

Believing that I’m enough silences the shame, even if only for a few moments. The comparison track is paused and I’m given the space and the courage to engage. It requires risk and true bravery. It means being vulnerable. Showing up. Allowing myself to be seen.

Chloe finished her two solo pieces and she left the room. Our daughter, Adelaide, came in next. She stood in the very place Chloe had stood. Adelaide’s piano accompanist arranged herself at the piano. Adelaide smiled at her friends and at me. She wiggled a few fingers. She looked up at the ceiling and down at the floor. And then she took a deep cleansing breath and she locked her gaze on the judge. The judge was finishing up Chloe’s paperwork. Suddenly Adelaide smiled. The judge had looked up in anticipation and

Adelaide met her gaze. Adelaide introduced herself and the two pieces she’d be singing. The piano started up and Adelaide joined in, her voice clear and strong.

It took tremendous courage for Chloe and Adelaide to compete as solo vocalists at the state competition. They had the courage to stand up in front of others, to bring their strengths, to allow themselves to be seen. I’m sure they felt vulnerable and laid bare before their peers but they did it. They dared to show up, to remain engaged.

The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time…. vulnerability is life’s great dare. It’s life asking, “Are you all in? Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others?” Answering yes to these questions is not weakness: It’s courage beyond measure. It’s daring greatly” (Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, page 43).

I’m not performing in any competition. My day-to-day life doesn’t involve long black dresses and Italian operettas, vocal warm ups or practice sessions. Yet many a day comes where I feel afraid to face the next thing. My courage wanes. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I flounder. Emotions rise like the moon on a dark night and cast shadows. Watching Adelaide last Saturday was inspiring. Her courage was transparent. She dared to be there. She dared to do her best. She invited others to see her. As much as she might have wanted to, she chose not to recoil. She chose to show up.

As odd as this may sound, I want to be like my daughter when I grow up!

 

With Hearts Outside our Bodies

heart outside your body

A few years ago, a good friend and I were talking about our children. How we loved them, how we were exasperated by them, how we struggled to parent well, mostly how we hurt when they hurt. She talked about a quote she had read somewhere, that when we have children we wear our hearts outside our bodies.

We walk with our hearts outside our bodies.

I later found the full quote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”*

Think of the heart, the most important organ in our bodies. Our hearts make sure the rest of our cells and other vital organs get oxygen in order to function effectively. They are well protected behind skin, muscle, and the strong bone barrier of our rib cage — it takes a bullet to get to our heart.

That’s the physical heart. That other heart, the heart that holds our love and emotion is not so well shielded. And with the coming of children, any skin, muscle, or ribs that we had lose all their efficacy. We lose any semblance of protective covering; suddenly our hearts are on the outside of our bodies, vulnerable and exposed for all the world to see and hurt, taunt and discard.

With five children, my heart has been outside my body and exposed for a long time.  Each child has their own place, their own shape, in my heart. With adult children, I can only witness what they allow me to witness, can only be a part of what they let me see. The range of emotions that I experience are extreme. There are times when the temptation to burst into tears is ever with me; those watery, salty drops at the ready. Other times my joy is palpable. Still other times, I feel angry and rage at these wretched people that I gave birth to. My heart is outside my body.

And I think that’s what happened with God when he decided that we, above all other animals, would be in relationship with him. He put his heart outside his body. He walked with his heart outside his body. He would hurt for us. He would rage at us. He would have compassion on us. And if that was not enough, when he decided to reveal himself through Jesus, his heart was further outside his body.

The heart of God was outside his body. And we broke it.

Gone was any rib cage of protection. Gone was the skin and muscle that could guard. “My God, My God Why Have you forsaken me” echoed to the Heavens. The God of the universe had put his heart outside his body in the form of his beloved Son.

In the most extreme act of love that the world would ever witness, God wore his heart outside his body and all of life changed.  It’s an amazing mystery. 

In my faith tradition, this week is Holy Week. All week we will remember in a special way this life-giving sacrifice. We will remember that God put his heart outside his body and all of life changed. 

*Elizabeth Stone

Note: This post is a reworking of an old post.

A Primer in Parenting–Part 3

Part three: Don’t burn your Bridges – A Home to Come Back To
This is the final segment in a three part series Robynn has called, The Spelling Bee. “Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently…He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began, Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel. Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel.” Join Robynn has she shares more from the unwritten list she and Lowell try to employ as they parent their children toward a vibrant faith.

  1. Live separately.

A couple of years ago I was talking to another mother of teenage boys. She was frustrated that her son had decided to not do well in school. She and her husband couldn’t seem to find a way to motivate him. Her emotional response to her son’s academic apathy was discernible. As a Spiritual Director I wanted to help her push into her own anxieties. “Sherry, this is not your D,” I told her. “You made different choices and you didn’t get a D in math.” It’s important to live separately from our children. My children are not extensions of me. We must resist the urge to parent based on popular opinion or the opinion of others. I can’t take their rages against me personally. I love them too much to argue. As their mother, I have to separate myself emotionally and yet not be emotionally distant.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

If I really believe, and I do, that Jesus is the only thing that matters…then I want my kids to pursue Jesus. I imagine because of the personalities of our children and because of the counter-cultural ways we’ve taught them to think that one or more of them will follow a different “straight and narrow” path to Jesus the Good Shepherd than through the protestant evangelical path we’ve stayed on. I’d rather they find Jesus cloaked in Orthodox clothes, or Mennonite simplicity or Charismatic Catholic garments than not find him at all.

  1. Pray like crazy!

At the end of the day, I hate to tell you but, we are completely out of control when it comes to parenting! I had to smile when another friend, a mother of two, was telling me that she had quit her ministry so her kids don’t hate God or the church. I wasn’t sure if I should break it to her or not…but there are no guarantees. We cannot control the outcomes. The sooner we admit that to ourselves the better. The sooner we acknowledge that God alone has access to the insides of our children, he has admittance to their souls, the sooner our parenting will be another admission on our part that we are not in charge. We are not in control.

Our own faith has great opportunity to grow through parenting. We recognize, quickly, our humanity, our selfishness, our desperate need for the help of Another. And we turn to our own Father, who generously gives wisdom to all who ask. He doles out parenting advice. He reassures our own fears. Simultaneously he handles our own hearts full of anxieties and insecurities and the hearts of our children full of insecurities and anxieties.

We pray often: little thank yous, little cries for help, little petitions for their souls, little celebratory yays when they’ve made a good choice. We pray through our own emotional responses that overwhelm us, our memories, our own horrors that surface as we watch our children grow through the retroactive lenses of our own upbringings. Quickly we learn to pray without stopping as parenting drives us to the very edges of who we are.

  1. Don’t shy away from suffering.

I have often prayed that God would do whatever it takes so that my children know Him, so that their faith is their own, so they know that Jesus is relevant for here and now. Surely that will involve suffering. Suffering is a theme in scripture that we cannot ignore. Suffering purifies, transforms, deepens our faith. Suffering is a privilege. As horrendously hard as it is, I have to resist the urge to protect my children from all of their sufferings. I’m not suggesting that I stand by and do nothing if I discover my children are victims of evil. But I am saying that it is tempting as parents to want to rush in and fix the disappointments and pain our children face. We want to make it better. We want them to be ok. We need to be careful here. Suffering can be the tool that God uses to make His presence known to our kids. His comfort goes deeper than ours ever can. He understands the complexities of their grief and their sorrows. He walks with them through it. We can trust him to shepherd their souls in the midst of the sadness and suffering they experience.

I don’t want to mess that up.

  1. Be the Father for them…a place to come back to.

Several months ago I was having lunch with a couple of friends. One friend’s older children are making poor decisions. My friend, in processing that, said something really profound, “At this point in my relationship with them I don’t want to burn any bridges. I want them to have someone to come back to. When they’re done being stupid, I want them to know they can come home to me.”

The story of the Prodigal son is one of my favourites for so many reasons. I love that story. The prodigal makes a really offensive request. No one is surprised by the question (–the youngest are always coming up with ridiculous ideas!) but everyone is surprised by the Father’s response. He lets him make, what to the rest of us who are sane seems like, the stupidest decision of his life. The youngest walks intentionally, deliberately further and further into his folly. He packs and moves away and wherever he goes he wastes his money in a series of bad decisions.

When the younger son is hungry and comes to his senses, he knows where he can go for food and forgiveness…but mostly for food! He goes home. He returns to his dad. And the dad is there waiting and eager to have him. The welcome is wondrous! The father doesn’t hold back. He embraces the son, decks him out in the most extravagant clothes and jewelry, orders in the richest cuisine and throws a party.

The father was there, the person the son could come home to. I want to be that parent. There was no shame or guilt heaped on the son, no pleading and nagging for details, no tears, no manipulation. There was welcome and grace and love.

I want Lowell and I to be there for my kids to come back to. I want to celebrate every return, every pivot point, every desire to come back. I want them to know they are always welcome here at home.

 

And that’s our list. That’s how Lowell and I have decided to guide our three precious kids to Jesus. We have no idea if what we’re doing will work! Every day feels a little risky. Every parenting decision feels somewhat precarious. And yet we step out in faith, believing in the Good Parent who loves us, his children, deeply and who is more committed to our children (who are also his children) than we could ever be.

 

A Primer in Parenting–Part 2

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Part two: Bible Trivia. Shmible Shnivia.

Robynn continues unpacking the list she and Lowell have followed as they’ve attempted to raise their children in the Faith. “I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel.”

  1. Bible Trivia. Shmible Shnivia.

If you put your kids up against my kids in a Bible trivia game my kids will lose. They don’t know the Books of the Bible song. I don’t think they’ve ever played Bible Sword Drill in their lives. Some of the things they spout from scripture are horrifying, mixed up names, confused stories. However if you think about it that’s really not what we’re trying to do as parents, is it? We’re not wanting to raise Trivia Pursuits champions; we’re wanting to raise children who understand the overall story of the Bible, the story of redemption, the story of a God who seeks after them and their neighbours and the world with relentless love and compassion. Bible knowledge is certainly important. But knowing God and being known by God are infinitely more important.

  1. Try not to freak out at their doubt and their questions.

We’ve raised our children to be thinkers. We want them to ask questions, to explore, to wonder. We don’t want them to accept things at face value. It’s true with the media. (I want them to question the messages their served up).

But it’s also true with the church. Here too, I want them to cogitate, contemplate and consider. I want them to dig deeper. I long for them to see past the cultural costumes we’ve clothed our faith in. I want them to own their faith…and in order for that to happen they have to take it deep inside their souls and shake it out, and try it on for size. As difficult and time-consuming as it is, I need to resist the temptation to treat their questions as moles that pop up in that arcade game popular at state fairs. Sometimes I want to whack those moles back into place. It’s more convenient. But I think the healthier option is to engage the mole, calmly let it look around, and ultimately let the mole give voice to his curiosities.

  1. Talk about our values.

Our kids hear us talk all the time. They hear us talk about the books we read. We’ve debated policy issues and dissected political issues. They hear us rant about issues of justice. They’ve seen me cry for the pain of the suffering or the plight of the poor. We’ve talked at length about money and faith and climate change; about war and education and equality and a fuller definition of redemption. We talk a lot at this house… and most all of it reflects our values. The other day our 16 year old was wanting (again) to play a video game that is known for its violence. In exasperation he retorted that when he’s on his own he’ll play whatever game he wants to. I replied (almost) calmly that it was our job as parents to pass on our values to him but he could ultimately choose which ones he keeps and which ones he sets aside. Certainly they’ve heard our hearts and the things that are important to us. Maybe (hopefully) some of it has stuck.

  1. Modeling…lots of modeling.

Our kids have seen us seek out Jesus. Each morning when they rise they see us sitting in our chairs with our coffee and contemplations in full swing. They’ve watched us volunteer at the church and in the community. We are gentle activists and they’ve had a front row seat to our activity and our protests and our push for justice. I can only hope that some of it has changed them. I pray that they see us and they’re taking some of us inside of who they will be.

  1. Expose them to great people.

We go to a great church. We rub shoulders with interesting people who do interesting things. We want our kids to know these people; to experience their passions and personalities up close. These great people have so much they could teach our kids. I want my kids to have that opportunity. I also want them to be surrounded by a community of caring adults in case they ever need someone. If our relationships ever sour I want them to know the safety of a larger circle of people that have lovingly encircled them since they were very young.

For Part 1 of the series go here.

Stay tuned for Part 3 on Friday.

The Spelling Bee–A Primer in Parenting

Over the past several weeks I’ve met several moms that are, by their own admission, floundering. They love their children but they experience moments of great rage. They love their children but they long for quiet times without them. They love their children but guilt falls thick when they experience other longings.

I want to write more for these moms. I am one of them. I understand those wide ranges of emotions connected to maternity. In thinking about pieces I’d like to write–on grace, on truth, on self-care, on pursuing other dreams simultaneously—it struck me that it might be beneficial to start again at the beginning. This mini-series on parenting really addresses just the basics. I’ve posted these before but it’s some of the best that I have to offer these moms.

Part one: The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

When Connor was in 6th grade he was in the school spelling bee. He had won the class bee. He had won the bee for all of 6th grade. And now he was in the all school spelling bee.

I quickly decided that as a mom, attending spelling bees is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. You sit there quietly in the audience and wait for the word to be announced. Once you hear the word, you spell it out in your mind, quietly, slowly and then, still in your mind, loudly, insistently. All of your brain tries to will the spelling of the word to the mind of the young speller. It’s agonizing. When it’s your child standing, waiting for the word to materialize in their heads, it almost hurts you as a parent spectator to watch. It’s excruciating.

E.X.C.R.U.C.I.A.T.I.N.G.

Younger spellers were quickly eliminated. Soon there were only 6 spellers left. Now 4. It was Connor’s turn to spell. The word he was given was ‘gospel’.

Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently.

Gospel. Can I have it in a sentence please? Can I have the definition?

He was using all of the familiar spelling bee participant’s stall tactics. He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began,

Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel?

Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” We all chuckled with relief!

It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel. I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel:

  1. It’s time to simplify!

It really is time to strip down our Christianity back to the simple Jesus underneath. Really the only thing that matters is Christ. It doesn’t matter what my kids wear to church, or how they do their hair. Their choice of music might be obnoxious; the volume might be too loud. But at the end of the day Jesus is the only thing that matters.

Connor came out of youth group several months ago fuming mad! Someone had said something that infuriated him. As he climbed into the car he spouted, “I hate Christians, I hate the church, I hate all of Christianity.” Admittedly I was a little alarmed. What had happened to provoke this type of visceral response? We talked it through on the way home. As soon as we walked into the house, Lowell asked how youth group had gone. I repeated what Connor had said when he got in the car. Lowell, in response, casually said, “Well Connor, what do you think of Jesus?” Connor’s reply was immediate and full of conviction, “I love Jesus very much.” “That’s all that matters then,” Lowell said. I was a little flabbergasted at Lowell’s nonchalance. I had gotten a little bit more worked up about it. But Lowell is right. Really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that our children embrace Jesus. Only Jesus.

  1. Remove the measuring sticks.

We’ve never forced our children to read their Bibles. We’ve never forced them to have a “Quiet Time”. Growing up in boarding school, especially when we were younger, there was a time for “personal devotions” –we were supposed to read our Bibles and pray. To help us in that feat we were given little Scripture Union devotional books. First you worked through the red one and then you could graduate to the Blue one. There was a green one and yellow one and I think, even a purple one. Spirituality became a competition all based on which little workbook you were in. When we were older, I remember reading my Bible in less than private spaces to ensure, subtly, that others might catch a glimpse of my devotion.

Lowell and I could set up a system. We could offer rewards. But I don’t want to raise “white washed tombs”—I want children who want to know God. I don’t want children who look like they want to know God. When Connor makes his bed, he pulls up the top bedspread only. The rest of his blankets lay in a nested mess at the foot of his bed. I don’t want his faith to be like his bed –only one blanket deep and thinly veiling the hypocrisy and mess underneath.

  1. Don’t be afraid of the slippery slope.

It’s scary to parent without the measuring sticks because we have no idea what’s really going on inside the souls of our children. We are out of control. If we have those types of rules in place we know if they’ve been obeyed or if they’ve been broken. They allow us to feel better about ourselves as parents. And without those rules, those mile markers, the measuring guides we have no way of knowing what’s going on. Not only are we out of control but there’s nothing to contribute to our sense of well-doing.

There is a prevailing idea in Christendom that suggests that we can’t completely throw out the law or the rules. Those suggesting this insist we need a balance. Too much grace leads to permissiveness….before you know it you’re on the slippery slope. A little bit of law regulates our behavior in good and productive ways. This type of Christianity results in us controlling behavior; it’s really just sin management.

And it simply is not true. Grace is generous and complete. The law has been erased. The only rule that remains now is the rule of love.

Our worst fears lie on the other end of the slippery slope. Sin. Licentiousness. Paganism. Hedonism.

Jesus calls us to camp out on that slope. To trust ourselves and our children to the depth of his grace. We are called to love: the Lord our God, our neighbours, our families, ourselves. If we do sin, grace pursues us and welcomes us back. We need to remember nothing is wasted by God. He takes the meanderings, those mistakes and he uses them for His glory in our story. We can know he does that with our children too.

Thank you Taylor Swift!

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Thank you Taylor Swift by Robynn

All summer long our youngest daughter has been dreading entering the eighth grade. Seventh grade wasn’t a positive experience for her. She really loathed it. Friendships changed. She bravely tried out for tennis and basketball but didn’t make the teams. She ran for student council but didn’t win the position she hoped for. It was a year of serious disappointment. Anyone who knows this kid, knows she processed all this pain and heart ache out loud, at home, all the time, with me. It was a really hard year. None of this endeared her to the prospect of another year in middle school.

Before the school year was even out she presented a fully developed PowerPoint presentation on why we should take her out of school and begin immediate homeschooling.

In May I received a phone call from a lady named Erin. Erin indicated that she was calling from the state of Kansas’ online education office. She was calling to speak to Bronwynn Bliss in response to her request for information. Bronwynn was across town enduring the last weeks of seventh grade, I was home receiving her phone calls. I was afraid Bronwynn wouldn’t be able to come to the phone.

When school let out in May, Bronwynn, waited three or four days before beginning her discernable dread of returning to school in August. We heard about it all summer long. She couldn’t possibly return to school. In her mind a conversation would convince us. Passionately she presented other options: Catholic school, private Christian school, online school, homeschool, another local middle school. She created pros and cons lists, ranking each entry with a score, adding up the results, doing the math. The results, mysteriously, always revealed that she couldn’t return to school.

On the last Friday of the summer I was sick in bed with a residual migraine that would not lift. Bronwynn camped out next to me and began her pleas with greater vigor and determination. The poor kid knew that summer was coming to an end. Her time was running out. She was trapped and in greater and greater anguish. Pulling out a fresh page in a new notebook she began her lists again. There had to be a solution and she was bent on finding it.

Sunday afternoon, in the middle of the growing agonies, flowing tears, knowing looks, we got a simple text message from a friend, “Would Bronwynn want to go to the Taylor Swift concert with me in September?”

That’s all it took! Taylor Swift saved the day. Bronwynn went from dejected to delirious faster than an Aston Martin One-77 can go from zero to sixty miles an hour! Everything changed. Hope was in the air. We had something to look forward to beyond the horrors of the present realities.

Emotionally I felt like I was strapped into a roller coaster going at unnatural speeds, taking head jerking turns and twists. She had gone from tears to squeals. Her personality morphed right in front of my eyes. She had been transformed, converted, changed. Suddenly. In the blink of a text message. I was astounded and if I’m honest, a little whiplashed!

It struck me that there is great value in having something to look forward to. The mundane is monotonous. Routine often seems to rip up our happiness.  Our real lives are marked with pain and frustrations. The news from around the world is bleak. We slug it out, day in, day out and it feels like the joy seeps out with the day. We push past ‘hump day’ (Wednesday) to the weekend but even our weekends seem bleh: yard work, errands, laundry. Having something further out on the horizon to look forward to seems to change everything!

There is coming a day when all will be well. Things will be set right. Peace will be restored. Beauty and order and loveliness will be reinstated. It’s a day just past what we can see. We have to live through this week, and the next, and possibly a few more but the day will come. The promise of it gives us something to think about in the midst of what we currently endure. We can fix our eyes on what is unseen and get through what we see, up close, relentlessly in our faces all day long. Somehow—and this is pure mystery—that upcoming day gives hope to this day. It infuses today with meaning and a sense of purpose. It gives us something larger than ourselves to look forward to, something beyond our own particulars to anticipate.

The Taylor Swift concert was all it took! Monday midway through the day, Bronzi casually sauntered through the kitchen, “I think I’m ready for school mom.” As she continued out of the room, I literally felt myself reel from the effects of emotional vertigo. I held onto the kitchen counter and breathed a steadying prayer of gratitude. Thank you Jesus for Taylor Swift. Thank you Jesus for our friend who thought of Bronwynn. Thank you for hope and expectation.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/concert-performance-audience-336695/

The Last Child

Jonathan and Stef at Stef’s Graduation from college in May

Last night we moved our youngest to an apartment. While normally at this time of year we move him to his dorm at college, this is different. This time it feels permanent. He has really left home. With his leaving, a sense of goodness and joy has gone. My daughter and I sit on the porch feeling a bit lost and not a little sad.

I wrote the words below a couple of years ago, and I read them again today, wanting to remind myself that the best thing I can do is pack him off and place him where I have placed him countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his children.

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Like most parents I feel a mixture of pride, nostalgia, and relief. We’re given our children as gifts with no guarantees and no exchanges. I’m grateful for this– I’ve no doubt my parents would have traded me in for a better model several times over.

There are times when you feel in your marrow that you’re failing your kid, when you stay up late into the night pleading for mercy and grace. There are other times when you’re downright cocky thinking “I’ve so got this parenting thing covered!” only to fall flat in the next breath.

The last child gets the parent who picks the pacifier up from the floor and pops it in baby’s mouth, hoping no one sees them but pretty sure they wouldn’t care even they were seen. They get the parent who is weary of curfews and just wants their child to be quiet when they sneak in at 2am; the parent who looks at them and softly admits they wish they had tried pot in high school. They get the parent who knows that every picture their child paints is not a Picasso masterpiece, but can still look at it and say “my, isn’t that a lovely shade of blue!”

They get the parent who knows more about grace than they could have ever imagined and can say without hesitation that parenting is “but for grace…”

An opinion piece in the Washington Post written by Michael Gerson eloquently articulated many of the emotions I feel.

“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.” From “Saying goodbye to my child; the youngster

So there you have it. I am but a ‘short stage’, a blip if you will, in the life stories of my kids, but a blip who loves them with a fierce, protective, God-given love. A blip ordained by God to share in the awesome and terrible responsibility of parenting.

So the sun sets on the stage where I see my son most every day. Where life is lived in family–in the morning through shared coffee and silence, in the evening through shared meals and discussion.

In all of this I am reminded of the Father who loves with an everlasting love, a love “utterly trustworthy and completely unpredictable”. *

And the best thing I do as I pack them off is place them where I have placed them countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his beloved children.

National Middle Child Day

Today is National Middle Child Day. I didn’t know this until this morning when the joys of social media alerted me. I’m glad they did. Because my middle child, Micah, turned 27 on Monday and with traveling I had not had a chance to celebrate him through writing.

The following is a blog post that I wrote five years ago, but it describes the amazing person he is and I celebrate him today as a man who has survived being in the middle.

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It’s difficult to describe my son Micah.

Born between countries, he entered the world on August 10th in 1988. We left Pakistan two weeks earlier and were transitioning to the United States with Florida as our base. I well remember our shock at re-entering the United States. When we left for Pakistan, we had a tiny 3 month old baby and had never lived anything beyond the student life. We went straight into working overseas for three years.

On return a lot had changed. We realized that with 2 children and one coming any day, we could no longer subsist on our fine student cuisine of Ramen noodles and generic soup. We realized that to get money, people put a card into a slot, punched some numbers and out came the cash. Our first visit to an ATM was memorable. We realized that the cost of living in Pakistan was vastly different from that in the United States, and we realized through our first fast-food meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken that one thigh and breast piece of American chickens were the equivalent of a whole Pakistani chicken.

I went to a doctor who was willing to take on a pregnant woman in her last month of pregnancy and at my second visit she breezily told me that she was going to be on vacation for the following 10 days. I looked at her in shock “But what if I go into labor?” She dismissed this saying I was nowhere near ready to deliver and we parted, me with the “just in case” number to call should the baby decide it was time.

The “just in case” number was used just a few days later as I felt those familiar pains that were not a stomach ache over dinner at a restaurant. By midnight that night I was at the hospital and delivered Micah in the wee hours of the morning in Daytona Beach,Florida– just blocks from the famed Daytona Speedway.

He joined Annie, an almost three year-old and Joel, a 14 month old. For years we called them twins born 14 months apart and indeed they were inseparable.

As parents we were warned about middle children – that is was easy for them to lose their way, lost in the shuffle of a big family and struggling for their identity. I don’t know why, and I can only attribute it to the hand of God on his life, but that was never the case for Micah.

Born in the middle, he was never lost.

As a young child, he had a quiet confidence in who he was. When I went into labor with Jonathan a day before his 7th birthday, he looked at his father and I and said “If our baby is born, I won’t be able to have a birthday party!” We assured him that he would have a birthday party no matter what, and so sixteen years ago with Jonathan just hours old laying on my lap, eight little boys ran through our house in Cairo, playing games, going on a treasure hunt and eating their fill of ice cream and cake. I’ll never forget that birthday. My guess is that if it was up to me, I would have promised that we would be sure to celebrate his birthday as soon as we could but maybe not that day.  My husband, who knows what it is like to be a middle-child, made sure that the expectations of a little boy were not lost in the chaos of labor, transition, breast-feeding beginnings and new-born wonder.

As his personality developed, so did his sense of humor and unique personality. At 12 he walked into the kitchen and said to me “Mom, Just so you know, I’m probably going to be the boy in this family that dates the most!” “Oh really?” I replied “Why’s that?” “Oh, I don’t know, I just have that feeling”, and off he went.

Micah had a strong sense of justice and clear view of right and wrong. He exercised that view fearlessly through middle school, unafraid of the opinions of others in this most cruel of ages, the slandering, insecure, gossiping breed that defines the developmental stage of those in grades six through eight.

When we moved to Phoenix in 2003, Micah saw this as a chance to grow and embrace a bigger school and more opportunities. And he did with determination and drive – he was the lead in almost every school play that was performed in a school of three thousand students; he excelled in speech and debate, writing his own pieces as a senior under a pseudonym so the real authorship could remain anonymous; he became president of National Honor Society and gave such a memorable speech that when he smashed our car into someone else’s later that week, instead of being angry they looked at him and said “Hey, you’re that kid that did that speech at National Honor Society! That was great!”  They said it with complete admiration and their smashed car seemed to fade into the background.

Micah graduated from university and a year later married Lauren, his soul-mate. He found his match for humor and love of life in Lauren and their life together will surely not be boring as they negotiate the worlds of acting and film, striving to be themselves among narcissistic competitors. Micah is now editor of a popular, zany television show called Portlandia and his gifts of humor and film-editing can be seen throughout each episode.

So I celebrate this child of ours on National Middle Child Day. Thank you Micah, for who you are in our lives. We salute you.