Who Do I Want To Be?

When I was younger, I thought having a kid meant figuring out what to do as a parent. Now that I’m a parent, I’m realizing that having a kid means figuring out what to do as a person. Being a parent is not just about what forms of disciplines to use, or what toys to buy, or whether to buy or make pureed carrots. It’s about remembering that little eyes are on you all the time, and it’s about trying to be a person that you want those little eyes to see.

James is already imitating us. From us, he’ll learn how to communicate, how to solve problems, how to resolve conflicts, and how to react to the world around him. That’s a frightening responsibility. It makes me look back on my day, at the things I’ve done and said around him, and wonder if I want him to be the kind of person I was.

I’m trying to find the flaws in myself and fix them, the good things about myself and not neglect them, and the grace to forgive myself so he doesn’t grow up so afraid of making mistakes that he doesn’t try in life.

I realize at eight months old he’s still working on saying, ‘Mama’ and not falling over when he sits by himself, but he’s also seeing how quickly I get frustrated at diaper tabs sticking where they shouldn’t, and seeing how alarmed I get when he topples over.

I’m trying hard to mature as a person: using better strategies to deal with frustration, correctly categorizing big problems and small problems, trying not to panic at small things, cleaning up messes right away, and remembering to inspect myself regularly for any behaviour I don’t want James picking up on.

I want to be a good parent. I also want to be a good person. It’s a good thing I can work on them both at the same time, or I think I’d run out of steam very quickly.

 

Diamonds

When  a loved one dies, those left behind are responsible for the remains. Different people have different wishes for what they’d like done with them after they die. My husband has told me that whatever I want is fine. A nice funeral, roll him into a ditch – whatever works for those of us who are grieving. Just a note, I have strong objections to the ditch idea.

One of my brothers has strong objections to a traditional burial. Ideally, he wants to be launched into space. Realistically, he’ll take anything but being buried in a box.

I don’t know what I’d prefer. It’s not a pleasant topic for contemplation. I do like the idea of a tombstone. They’re great for a lasting memorial to the deceased, and they can reflect in some measure the person’s life, or the way they influenced the people around them. They’re also a good way to trace one’s family history, if there’s a family plot to explore.

I know what I really don’t want. There’s one way to handle remains that creeps me out. A person can be cremated, and their ashed compressed into a diamond. In theory it sounds almost touching, almost romantic. A loss transformed into a lasting and beautiful reminder of the lost loved one. I can’t help thinking, though, of the awkward conversations down the road.

“What a beautiful diamond ring!”

“Thanks, it was my great aunt.”

Nope.

Just nope.

I don’t want dead me on someone’s finger. I don’t want dead anyone else on my finger.

This came to mind while listening to a Hawk Nelson song earlier today. The song was called Diamonds.   Here’s the link:   Hawk Nelson – Diamonds

It’s not a creepy song about dead-people diamonds. I just occasionally remember that you can make cremation diamonds when I think about diamonds. It’s a song about God’s use of life’s pressures and trials to purify us into something of great value.

The Bible talks a lot about trials in life being like a refining fire. It also talks a lot about dying: dying to sin, dying to self, dying to our own nature and taking up the nature of Christ instead.

I used to find those concepts unsettling. If I died to self, who would I be? If the ‘dross’ was burnt up, what would be left? Hawk Nelson says it well: Here and now/ I’m in the fire/ In above my head/ Being held under the pressure/ Don’t know what’ll be left.

They also answer those questions: But it’s here in the ashes I’m finding treasure/ He’s making diamonds.

These are not creepy dead-people diamonds. We’re being made into God’s diamonds – living, highly-valued, purified children of God who reflect His Son and shine beautifully.

Some days – or if I’m honest, many days – I don’t feel much like a diamond. I feel like an unattractive lump of carbon, and I sit there complaining about the refining process. But God knows what He’s doing. If He says so, I guess there will be a diamond there someday, and He’ll get me there in His time.

Happy Mother’s Day

Last weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day. One person I was talking with prior to the weekend wished me a happy Mother’s Day, and commented on it being my first. She wasn’t entirely right about that. I count it as my third. Still, she was close. It wasn’t my first Mother’s Day, but it was my first happy Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day 2015 Jon and I were living with expected loss. Micah had been diagnosed with anencephaly, our induction was a month away, and we were miserable. I really didn’t feel like celebrating Mother’s Day that year, even though I was a mother. I was given a few things, among them an outfit for Micah made by his grandmother, and a single red carnation. Micah was buried with his homemade hat, and with my Mother’s Day flower.

I dried my flower, wanting to save it because it was my first Mother’s Day flower. While I didn’t feel like celebrating, I’m glad I was acknowledged as a mom because it meant Micah was acknowledged. When we buried Micah, he was surrounded by things people had made and bought for him – things to show he was loved. My first Mother’s Day flower was tucked into his tiny hand.

Mother’s Day 2016 was better, but still hard. I was pregnant again, and I believe at that time we were still waiting on final test results to see if James was healthy. With one loss not that far behind us, and uncertainty ahead, it was an anxious Mother’s Day. Once again, I was included in the celebration. I remember two gifts in particular. One was a housecoat to take to the hospital. One was a letter from my dad, telling me I was going to be a good mom.

That Mother’s Day was full of anxious hope. I had my hospital wear, and I had my family’s prayers and encouragement. It was still a hard day, because I was struggling with being pregnant, and missing Micah. But we were looking forward to meeting James, and I took Micah flowers to show he wasn’t forgotten.

This year, 2017, was a happy Mother’s Day. I got to hold my baby James in my arms – much more than usual as he was having a rough day and needed snuggles. I cuddled my healthy little baby, smelled my bouquets, and tried to figure out how to assemble my new fountain pen.

The best gift came from James. Mama was his first word. It was more a coincidence of syllables than anything, but he said it. Twice. Then he switched to ‘dada’ and refused to say ‘mama’ again for weeks. He said ‘baba’ all the time, ‘dada’ when he was happy, and ‘mama’ was a thing of the past. Until Mother’s Day weekend. He’s said ‘mama’ multiple times every day since. It’s his new word to say when he’s upset. And I come running, snuggle him up and say, “Mama will take care of you. Mama’s got you.”

It makes my day knowing that even though he is just making noises, he calls for me when he needs help. I need him, too. I’ve had three Mother’s Days, but only one happy Mother’s Day. James is my little, God-given reason to celebrate.

Would You Rather…?

Would You Rather is a game we played one year at summer camp.  It was not a game I liked.  One person laid out two options and then everyone in the group would pick which they preferred. For some reason, it was always two bad things.  The only one I remember from that summer was this: Would you rather not have a white wedding dress, or have nose hairs that were incredibly long?  After much discussion about off-whites and nose hair trimmers, the rules were clarified.  The dress had to be yellow, and you couldn’t cut the hairs – ever.  I don’t think I picked.  I just thought it was dumb.

I like right answers.  I like to be able to look at the options, and make a good decision. Picking between two unpleasant options, therefore, did not amuse me in the slightest. As it turns out, life is much more like Would You Rather than I like to admit.

As an adult, there are many times I’m presented with two options, and often they are unpleasant.  For example, would you rather get an hour less sleep but shower and eat before going to work, or get an extra hour of sleep but have bedhead and be hungry?  That one’s reusable.  I can play it every day. Hurrah.

Here’s another one: Would you rather make the effort to make dinner even though  you’re tired and then be exhausted, or buy dinner and then be broke?  See how much fun this is?

In real life, the choices are varied.  Sometimes it’s between unimportant things, like which socks to wear.  Sometimes it’s between very important things, like which major to choose. Sometimes it’s life and death, or sometimes it’s whether to drive a bit further for slightly cheaper groceries.  Sometimes it’s whether to trust God, or do things our own way. Sometimes it’s even between two good things, like flavours of ice cream.

I still don’t like the game.  Perhaps because it’s too much like life.  You have two choices. There might not be a pleasant one.

I suppose the advantage the game has is that you can take back your choice if you change your mind.  Real life doesn’t always have take backs.  Although, real life does have off-white, and nose hair trimmers.  So perhaps not all is lost.

Speaking Carefully

Now that I have a baby, I’m starting to pay close attention to how I say things.  Sometimes a small shift in how a sentence is constructed can radically change the meaning, and I want to make sure that when my baby learns to understand what I’m saying, I’m saying good things.

One phrase I’m trying to stop saying is, “I love you but…”  It’s an easy one to fall into.  I tell him I love him many times a day that I love him.  I also tell him he’s messy, and that I don’t like changing diapers, and that he’s very heavy.  It’s simple enough to join two thoughts and say, “I love you, but you’re so messy.”

I was thinking about what that implies.  Is that saying I love him despite his messiness?  Is that saying I love him, but my love is dimmed by his messiness?  Is that saying I’d love him more if he was cleaner?  Are any of those how he’ll interpret what I say when he grows up?

If he thinks I’m saying I love him despite the mess, that’s okay.  If he think I’m saying I’d love a clean baby more, that’s a problem.

I’ve found an alternative to “I love you but….”  I’m trying to get into the habit of reversing the sentence structure so that I’m saying, “….but I love you.”

“You’re messy, but I love you.”  To me, the shift in focus is important.  Instead of saying, “I love you, but right now I’m focused on this mess,” I’m saying, “There is a mess, but no matter how messy you are, my love stays the same.”

I realize a baby doesn’t overthink a sentence the way an adult does, and I realize that to some people, either way of saying it feels the same.  I, however, am an English major and an overthinker, and just in case our little one takes after me, I want to make sure I start right now to say exactly what I want him to hear.

Zacchaeus and Judas

Today James and I were reading stories from The Beginner’s Bible.  Two of the stories we read were the stories of Zacchaeus, and of Mary pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.

For anyone who hasn’t read these stories, I’ll do a summary. Zacchaeus was a tax collector who made sure Rome got their taxes from the Jewish people.  Tax collectors were often Jews themselves, and were seen as traitors for working for the Romans.  Tax collectors made their money by telling Fred over there that this year he owed $100.  They’d pass on the $70 Rome required and keep the rest.  If Fred complained, tax collectors would pass the complain on to Rome. Rome always took the side of the tax collector.

Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming to his area.  Zacchaeus was short and couldn’t see through the crowd to see Jesus pass by.  He climbed up into a tree to see Jesus.  Jesus noticed him, called him down, and went to his house for dinner.  Most of the town was not happy that Jesus was eating with this traitor.  While everyone outside was complaining about Jesus’ dinner plans, big things were happening inside.

Luke 19:8-10 (HCSB)

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!”

“Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus met Jesus and promptly turned his whole life around.  Imagine if Jesus did what the crowd wanted.  If Jesus walked right past that tree because traitors and cheats weren’t the kind of people He wanted to be seen with, Zacchaeus would still be stealing from the people, and they would still be broke with no one to turn to for justice.  Instead, Jesus did what seemed wrong, but resolved an unfair situation by bringing about a change of heart in Zacchaeus.

And then you have Judas.  Judas was a disciple.  He traveled everywhere with Jesus.  He was with Jesus for years.

At a different dinner party a woman named Mary came with a jar of very expensive perfume, broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet.  It was an act of worship. Judas called it a waste.  He wanted to know why she didn’t sell the perfume instead and give the money to the poor.

John 12:6-8 (HCSB)

He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.

Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

Judas on the surface sounds just a little too practical.  Sure, she was honouring Jesus, but think how many people we could help if we sold it.  Zacchaeus gave money to the poor. Giving to the poor is good, right?  Yes, absolutely.

Stealing what people donate to the poor, though, not so much.  Jesus didn’t call Judas out on the theft at this point, though. Instead he affirmed that giving to the poor was good, but they’d have time for that later. Mary wouldn’t have time to honour Jesus later.  His crucifixion  was coming soon.  Judas ends his part as a disciple by going to the people who hated Jesus and literally selling him out.  He got his money.

I find it interesting that Zacchaeus who cheated and stole for a living, and who had the backing of the Roman empire to do so, met Jesus once and turned his whole life around. Judas went where Jesus went, ate what Jesus ate, lived how Jesus lived.  Still, the money was more important.

I think that’s an important thing about Jesus.  He gives us opportunities to change.  He went to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner even though Zacchaeus was a traitor.  He called Judas as a disciple even though Judas was a thief.  Did Jesus make Zacchaeus give back the money he stole?  No.  Did Jesus make Judas give back the money he stole?  No.  Did Jesus meet with them, eat with them, teach them, and show God’s love in their lives?  Yes. Jesus is willing to enter anyone’s life, if we’re willing.  After that, it’s up to us.

 

All Bible verses copy/pasted from http://www.biblegateway.com.

Empathy

There was a book I read in high school called Crow Lake. Even though I only read it once in class, it has stuck with me for all the years since. I received this book for Christmas this year. It’s even better written than I remembered.

There are some books that help shape who we are, and this is one of those books for me. There is one scene I never forgot. It shows a different side of what a struggling family can be.

Near the beginning of the book four kids are orphaned. I say kids, but the two oldest are 19 and 17. The younger two are 7 and 1. The two oldest work on a neighbouring farm, where they often see the owner take out his unreasonable rage on his son. One day this neighbour’s son shows up in their yard. The kids notice and invite him in. He declines. He awkwardly says things are fine and wanders off.

Upon reflection years later, the main character wonders if the neighbour boy came by to talk about the abuse they later learned he was suffering. The main character’s explanation as to why he declined to come in was that they were having a good night. Here’s what she says about that night years later:

“It must have looked idyllic. It must have made the idea of coming in and talking about what was going on in his own home seem impossible, completely out of the question. If Bo had been screaming or Matt and Luke arguing or even if we hadn’t all been together in that shining kitchen, it might have been possible. He’d just picked a bad night.”

He’d picked a “bad night.” It was one of the few nights where the house was clean, the baby was calm, the brothers were getting along and the seven year old was coping. Normally the house and the kids were a wreck. The poor boy from nearby was afraid to mar the idyllic household with his suffering. If only he’d come by on a normal night.

That scene stuck with me. It’s hard to talk to someone about problems when their life seems perfect. It’s much easier to talk to someone who can empathize.

Of course, to let someone know we can empathize means we have to let them know we’re not perfect either. That’s hard. It’s easy to say, “I procrastinate. I eat too much junk food. I get overly irate with irritating people.” It’s a lot harder to say, “When my husband lost his job I waited until I was alone and then sat on the kitchen floor sobbing and imploring God for answers, because I was starting to think He was not helping us anymore, and I didn’t want my husband to know how upset and worried I was.” Yeah, that happened. More than once. I’m not perfect.

The thing is, if I say, “I was upset for a while but we prayed about it and a new job came along just in time, praise God,” it opens the door for other to share their good news. If I say, “I struggled with my emotions and wondered if God was listening,” it opens the door for others to ask for help with their struggles.

In 2015 a lot of people shared their stories with me, showing me that their lives were not perfect either, and allowing me to talk about the hard times. Some people seemed to insist on hope, but sometimes a person just needs time to mourn. Sometimes the tears help. Seeing someone else’s tears can feel like permission to grieve.

Showing the hard times, instead of grinning through them, can make people feel vulnerable and exposed, which is a difficult way to feel. But it might be the crack in the perfect picture that makes it okay for someone to ask for help, or seek a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes our vulnerability, instead of making us look weak, can make someone else stronger. It can give them courage to reach out for help Sometimes the best gift is a sad story, because it’s so much easier to talk to someone who can empathize.