Posted in musings

enduring like Peter

I’ve been thinking today about the Apostle Peter, since our small group is beginning a study on 1st Peter, and some comments made at the introductory study tonight caught my attention.

Before Jesus was betrayed, Peter told Him that he would die for Him rather than deny Him – but despite his brash and bold protestations, he fell away when the moment of pressure came.

After the resurrection, when Jesus was restoring Peter and preparing him to lead the church, He tells Peter, in effect, that one day he will die for Him. And in the end, Peter did die for Jesus, crucified in Rome under Nero’s reign.

What his own strength and determination could not achieve, God’s grace was able to perform. Peter couldn’t make himself endure to the end, over the fear and the danger of his circumstances, but God, by sanctifying him, by filling him with His Spirit, by giving him the strength he needed to persevere, could.

So it is with us. When challenges and trials come, it is not our own willpower or character that will enable to us to endure, but rather God’s grace holding us fast, keeping us going. Instead of relying on our own abilities and reserves of strength, we must throw ourselves into the mercy of Christ, pleading with Him to draw us near to Him and keep us faithful when we are unable to do so on our own. If we so pray, He will answer; He does not turn away the soul that falls on Him.

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Posted in family life

Limerick and Rondel together

Limerick has very little patience with adults trying to make him do something off his agenda, like dress him, change his diaper, hold him still, keep him away from forbidden or unsafe objects, and so on. To my mind this is completely reasonable toddler behavior and it doesn’t bother me at all. What interests me, though, is how incredibly patient he is with Rondel whenever Rondel decides to do something to him.

Limerick may be walking or crawling or climbing somewhere and Rondel will randomly grab him into a hug; Limerick just stops, rests his head against Rondel, and waits until the hug is done before proceeding with his activity. If Rondel pats Limerick’s head or squeezes his knee, Limerick just watches him curiously and doesn’t try to move away. And at the park, when Rondel decided to pour sand over Limerick’s head, he didn’t seem to mind at all:

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just ignore Rondel’s very long and messy hair… I know we need to get it cut 🙂

Something about his big brother is unendingly and endearingly fascinating for Limerick, to the point where he’ll set aside almost anything else to put up with Rondel’s affection and attention, or follow him around the house to investigate what he’s doing. It’s not always rainbows and roses, of course: Limerick’s interest often leads to conflict with Rondel’s plans, and his still-developing coordination often causes unintentional bumps and broken constructions. But those moments of togetherness – whether they’re sweet and silly or rife with conflict and stress – are building their relationship and helping them to learn what friendship and family are all about.

Posted in family life, musings

why I’m not cut out to be a parent (and neither are you)

I’ve heard many people say to me that they just aren’t cut out to be a parent, or that they aren’t ready to be a parent. I’ve thought it many times myself, especially on particularly trying days! And while I used to try to convince people that they could handle being a parent (with the corollary that they should be open to life), I think I’m changing my mind. They’re not cut out to be parents. I have two kids, and I’m not cut out to be a parent either.

How did I come to this conclusion, you ask? I took stock one evening of all the things that being a parent was requiring of me:

Love: my babies need me to love them consistently, unconditionally, and more than I love myself. You try doing that when your nose is runny, your head hurts, and you just want to take a shower and a nap, while the kids still need to be fed, changed, and cared for. Love feels easy when you’re watching those babies sleep and your heart is melting, but sometimes the self-denial required is significantly beyond my ability.

Joy: adding insult to injury, being a parent means that I can’t simply feed and dress my kids with an underlying attitude of resentment, anger, or bitterness. For them to feel loved, they need to know that I enjoy being with them. Unfortunately, small children are not always innately enjoyable. My joy, therefore, has to come from something other than them (and, incidentally, what a burden it would be for a child to know that their parent’s joy and happiness was in their small and inexperienced hands!), which means I have to either be one of those irritatingly cheerful people who always seem to be happy, or that I have to find some source of authentic joy outside of myself. On my own, I don’t have the joy needed to be a great parent.

Peace: when my two-year-old is whining at supersonically high frequencies for a never-ending litany of reasons and my one-year-old is climbing on top of everything in sight (including my head and the two-year-old’s plate of half-eaten food), it is not humanly possible to keep myself from being irritated and annoyed (at least not for me!). I will lose my cool, at least once every day. Probably more than that on the days I don’t get out of the chaos by going to work, honestly. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve prayed for peace and asked Mary (one of whose titles is the Queen of Peace) to pray for me to have peace as well.

Patience: this one needs no explanation. Everyone knows you have to have patience with a toddler – and everyone knows that they don’t have as much patience as said toddler demands of them every day.

Kindness: because the tone of my voice matters. My body language matters. The extra activities and snuggles and treats we enjoy together, for no reason at all, matter. The little kindnesses I can do, the general demeanor of kindness and caring I can maintain, convey to my children that they matter – to me, to the family, to the community, and ultimately to God.

Goodness: as a parent, I’m my babies’ model of who God is and what basic moral standards are. My righteousness or lack thereof informs their developing consciences. So hmm, maybe my self-absorption, sloth, lack of compassion, and pride are things I should work on if I really want to ace this parenting thing…

Faithfulness: as every parent knows, one of the hardest parts of the gig is that there are seldom any breaks. The job is 24/7 for years – and two of the requirements is consistency and commitment. I can’t just take off for a year to develop different interests or explore a different side of myself; I’m in this for life. I think this is one of the biggest reasons why people in this culture don’t feel ready for parenthood! We are frightened of commitment – because it ties us down, but also because we’re afraid we’ll fail.

Gentleness: I’m trying to raise my children with courtesy and respect – to model for them the character I want them to have as adults. So when my temper flares, I can’t let it out with a smack or a yell. Maybe I can vent later to my husband or my journal; maybe I’ll just have to talk myself down from that emotional cliff. Most days I try to work at prevention, by being gentle and patient with myself and my boys so the anger doesn’t have an opening. But there are still times when I speak harshly and move roughly, my anger overcoming my kindness, abrasively damaging my connection with my children instead of building it up, and from what I read and hear and see, I’m far from alone.

Self-Control: ok, we all have that stash of chocolate we hide in the pantry and don’t share with the kids. We all have our favorite TV shows or books that we binge on to get our heads out of our reality. But as a parent, we have to be able to hold ourselves together as long as our kids need us. If our baby wakes up in the middle of our time alone in the evening, we still have to respond with kindness and love. The thoughts and desires we have need to come second to our responsibilities – and I’m not saying to take care of ourselves, but even with adequate self-care that can be pretty hard sometimes!

Hmm, does that list look familiar to you? That’s right – it’s the fruit of the spirit (from Galatians 5). No wonder I don’t feel ready for parenthood, or cut out to be a parent: I’m not. That fruit has not reached maturity in my life yet. Parenthood, to put it briefly, demands holiness. Holiness is not something I can live out, no matter how much I try; my old sinful tendencies still need to be put off and set aside. My prayer is that parenthood will at least hasten the process of sanctification in my life, as the refining fire or sculpting chisel in God’s hand.

Posted in musings

thoughts on college and depression

Comparing my college experiences with those of some of my closest friends, and pondering the nature of my depressive episodes versus theirs, I think there were a couple key things that made college easier/better for me and that also helped me fight through my depression to my current stage of remission.

First, I was highly skeptical of the college environment, and really of any larger environment outside of my family. I knew it would be run by people who believed things I believed to be false, and I didn’t want to be taken in by it. My goal was to get as much possible out of the system without becoming part of it; in a sense, I saw myself as an undercover agent infiltrating enemy territory. In retrospect this was a rather ridiculous and exaggerated mindset, born of reading too many fundamentalist Christian books bordering on conspiracy theory no doubt 🙂 But it had the silver lining of not setting me up with unrealistically high expectations for how awesome college would be! Because every positive experience came as a surprise, and every challenging experience as an expected part of my “mission”, I ended up loving my time as a student.

Building off of that, I was able to keep a small picture of myself (in contrast to a large picture of the world around me). Everything could then appear to me more wonderful, more majestic, more beautiful. Sometimes this meant that everything looked more overwhelming, especially in the midst of my depression, but it has also helped me to realize that I don’t need to control or understand everything – everything is big, and glorious, and chaotic, and I can find contentment in being a small part (but of course my own unique and specially personal part) of that everything. My husband helped me work through this in a practical way during my depression, and G. K. Chesterton helped me a lot in coming to an understanding of it on a conceptual level:

“[Man] was always outstripping his mercies with his own newly invented needs. His very power of enjoyment destroyed half his joys. By asking for pleasure he lost the chief pleasure; for the chief pleasure is surprise. Hence it became evident that if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small.” – Orthodoxy

Finally, I never lost the community that supported me through my childhood and adolescence, and I never lost my gratitude to them for their love and encouragement. I cannot imagine how much harder the transition to college would have been without my family, my church, and my high school friends. Their presence enabled me to adjust socially to college at a slower pace without enduring the loneliness and isolation that many of friends felt in their first year or two. As time went by, then, I could develop friendships in the natural organic way such things tend to happen – by doing things outside of class together, outside of the whole college environment together, and so on. But the relationships I made before college and continued through college were essential. One of the triggers for my post-college depression was, I believe, the stress of finding a new church with my husband and losing a lot of the community that I had been a part of since childhood. I felt alone in a way that most people deal with as freshmen, I think.

Looking back now, at the things that supported me through difficult transitions and the things that let me down at other moments, I can prepare myself for the future. I can remember how low expectations (or, more precisely, expectations of challenge and adventure, as opposed to fulfillment and pleasure) set me up for pleasant surprises. I can remember how looking at the world with wonder at its towering beauties, keeping in mind my own smallness in it, gave me liberty and room to breathe. I can remember how crucial community was to me – the tight bonds of long-held relationships, the support of people from all generations around me – even as an introvert, and put in the uncomfortable work of building a new community around me when the inevitable transitions of life threaten to leave me alone.

And above all, I can pray.

I can pray to the Father for His guidance, to the Son for His peace, to the Spirit for His comfort. In the arms of the Trinity, I can find meaning in even the worst of my suffering, and the hope of redemption and healing. It would be incredibly narcissistic of me to claim that I had a great college experience and came out of my depression in my own power, by some sort of strength or wisdom I possess that another person with worse experiences didn’t have. It was all grace. And the same grace that protected and healed me then gives me the ability to learn from the past now so that I can avoid those same traps in the future – and so that, maybe, I can help someone else avoid them the first time around.

Posted in family life

climbing ladders

Someone learned how to climb the ladder at the park this week!

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My policy with the kids at the park is that I’ll let them try anything they want to try, but I won’t help them except for spotting them on the first few attempts. I don’t want them to become dependent on my help to play, or to feel like they can’t accomplish hard things on their own. (And honestly, with two little ones I’m not able to hold both of their hands for whatever they might want to do!)

Rondel has always been a cautious baby, but lately I’ve seen him challenging himself and taking on new adventures, and seeming to enjoy the adrenaline rush and the feeling of accomplishment. It’s been really fascinating to watch him grow in that way! However, it was a bit of a surprise for me when he ran up and said he wanted to climb the ladder. Honestly, I didn’t think he’d be able to do it, and I was afraid he’d hurt himself, but I didn’t want him to catch my anxiety so I told him to go for it, and that I’d be right there behind him to make sure he didn’t fall. And he did it! I hung out near the ladder a few more times and then I could tell that he’d mastered it – he was going up and down with surprising dexterity given that he’d never tried it before that day.

In typical Rondel fashion, though, he managed to insert some theatrics into each trip up and down the ladder 🙂 He’s totally pretending to be stuck and need help… he finished going up about 10 seconds after I got this shot, though 🙂

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Congratulations, big boy 🙂 You haven’t just conquered the ladder at the park – you’re learning how to conquer your fears and hurdle the obstacles in your path.

Posted in musings

sanctity of life

Because of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, many Christians celebrate the month of January as “sanctity of life” month, or at least this past Sunday as “sanctity of life” Sunday. My church had a local pro-life activism group come and speak and set up a table in the atrium, for example. But sanctity of life has to do with a lot more than just abortion.

Sanctity of life means valuing and respecting the incredible dignity and worth of every other human being, not for any characteristic or behavior or ability, but simply because they are human.

It means that I don’t take advantage of my wealth or privilege to destroy another person’s reputation or livelihood.

It means that I greet an elderly person, a disabled person, a homeless person, a child, or a transgender person with the same kindness and courtesy with which I would like to be addressed.

It means that I give, of my time or my money, to keep people off the street, away from crime, in families and communities that love and support them.

It means that I treat the potential of new life in my own family as a great gift and blessing instead of a burden and a pain.

It means that I prepare financially and emotionally to care for my own parents or my husband’s parents as they reach old age and return to dependence and need, as they once cared for me.

It means that I listen – genuinely listen, seeking to understand – to the stories of people whose worldviews are diametrically opposed to my own, instead of resorting to personal insults or deaf ears.

It means that I care about the vulnerable around the world – the oppressed in my own country, the immigrants, the refugees, the orphans and the widows – and use the opportunities I have to make a difference for them, even if sometimes it can only be through writing and prayer.

And yes, it means that I fight for the lives of the unborn, the voiceless among us, equally human, most vulnerable and yet least protected.

We should not forget about the reality of abortion, the pain and horror of it for everyone involved – the mother and father robbed of their parenthood, the medical personnel betraying their healing profession, the baby robbed of life itself. It is good to be reminded of those things, to renew our strength for the long work of protecting the unborn. But we should also remember that life continues after birth, and that the ideal of sanctity of life can only truly be fulfilled when humanity is respected through all the long or short years of that life.

Posted in musings, quotes

the courtesy of St. Francis

“I have said that St. Francis deliberately did not see the wood for the trees. It is even more true that he deliberately did not see the mob for the men. […] He only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous. To him a man was always a man and did not disappear in a dense crowd any more than in a desert. He honoured all men; that is, he not only loved but respected them all. What gave him his extraordinary personal power was this; that from the Pope to the beggar, from the sultan of Syria in his pavilion to the ragged robbers crawling out of the wood, there was never a man who looked into those brown burning eyes without being certain that Francis Bernadine was really interested in him; in his own inner individual life from the cradle to the grave; that he himself was being valued and taken seriously, and not merely added to the spoils of some social policy or the names in some clerical document.” – G. K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi

Can you imagine treating everyone you encountered in this way? Giving them the courtesy and honor of seeing them as an individual and caring about their story for their own sake? It is so hard sometimes, weighed down as I am by my own problems and my own daily busyness, to genuinely look outside of myself into the heart of another person. But love consists in that type of respect, not simply in meeting another person’s physical needs, because service and charity can be given in an impersonal, agenda-driven manner, but taking another person seriously, valuing them and their past and their future, their history and the dreams, is worth far more.