Faith, Parenting, Personal Growth, Reflection

The First Pour

coffee pour by mark on flickr

We have this little ritual, West and I, of making coffee for one another.  Sometimes he makes it (usually after lunch), and sometimes I do (our morning cuppa, following the school run); but the process is the same for each of us:  rinse out our little Bialetti espresso maker, fill with fresh water, spoon the coffee grounds over the metal filter, screw the top back on, and place it on the stovetop to heat up while we microwave the two cups of milk for our lattes.  Mmmmm.  Rich, delicious, and – most importantly – caffeinated!

The coffee-preparation process is the same, but there’s one slight variation in the finished product each of us receives: whoever gets the second cup also gets a bit of ‘sludge’ from the coffee grounds.  It’s a very slightly finer cup for whomever gets the first pour.  Knowing this is the case, I make sure that West gets the first pour.

Oh, I know I could make it even.  I could do a little pour into each cup, back and forth and back again, to make sure that neither of us gets the dregs on our own.  I could.  But then neither of us would get the pure ‘first pour’, either.   And, in truth, I don’t really mind the dregs.  I know, too, that when West makes the coffee, he reserves the second pour for himself and gives me the finer cup.  It balances out.

When you think about it, it’s not just with coffee that there’s a ‘first pour’ and ‘the dregs’; our time, our energy, our families – with each of these things we have a choice to make, whether we realise it or not, about where we’re going to bestow this superior ‘first pour’.

If I’m working on an article or some other writing, it’s easy to be consumed by it; so focused on the words and ideas swirling around in my head that every other bit of input is a frustrating distraction.  In truth, it’s like that anytime I’m wrestling with ideas – even if I’m internally trying to figure out how to better nurture my children and be more patient with them, I’ll be swatting them away and growling at them while I’m trying to think it through.  How’s that for irony?!  There are definitely times that I need to lock myself away to sort out the ideas, set down the phrases, and complete a writing task; but at other times I really have to train myself to view the thoughts (and worries) as a distraction, rather than seeing my kids that way.  Sometimes, at the very least, my kids should get the ‘first pour’ of my energy, focus, and attention; my children as individuals and my family as a group – not just concepts, ideas, theories and debates about the concept of ‘parenting’.

Likewise, when life and lists crowd in and there doesn’t seem to be time for anything, let alone a sacred, quiet space in time to read the Bible, pray, or meditate, where does my ‘first pour’ go?  Likely, every little thing gets a drip of my best; the dregs, if anything, are what’s left for the pursuit of spiritual growth and nurture.

And although when I make a coffee I put myself second – with little to no detriment – I can see that it’s not healthy for us to always leave ourselves just the dregs of our time and energy.  Sometimes we need to make sure that we get the sustaining, superior, beneficial ‘first pour’ as well – not to short-change those we love, but to ensure that we function as healthy, fulfilled, and functional human beings.  When I start to feel like I’m pouring into too many cups, I know that the result will be unsatisfying – and unsatisfactory – for all of them.  I need to give myself the first pour – step back from things, renew my energy, regain my perspective, and then I’m fresh to make a new batch.

This isn’t a new idea.  In the Bible, one of God’s requirements of the Jews was that they would bring Him their ‘first fruits’ as an offering.  He also required them to sacrifice their best before Him; an unblemished lamb (sound familiar?), amongst other things.  Sure, these are Old Testament practices, but they’re ones whose essence remains useful to observe today:  what we do for God should be what we do first; and what we bring to God should be our best.  It shouldn’t be that church is what we fit in if we haven’t got anything better to do on a Sunday.  It shouldn’t be that sleep, activities, and TV crowd in and replace our time praying and reading the Bible. (It shouldn’t be the case, but I’ll raise my hand first – I find time to vege in front of Netflix almost every night, and yet I can’t seem to establish a regular quiet time routine for reading the Bible and meditating on God’s word…).

I think it’s worth considering, from time to time.  Who’s getting the first pour in your life?  Do you need to change the order of cups?

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Faith, Life, Parenting

Unable

 

9 Crimes

There have been times when I’ve sat on the beds of my young children and wept with frustration and angst at the impossibility of motherhood.

I have cried bitter tears about the enormity of my to-do list and my ineptitude at accomplishing simple tasks.  I’ve sobbed about the big and the little things; the things I’ve meant to do but haven’t; the people I’ve let down; the ways in which I am failing consistently, constantly, relentlessly.  When I’ve been too quick to anger and too harsh in my responses I have fallen broken-hearted on my pillow and cried hot, copious tears until my throat was hoarse and my eyes were swollen and my emotions were spent.

This is the hardest job I’ve ever had.

From the physical process of becoming a mother onwards, this journey has been fraught with discomfort and difficulty.

The crushing discovery that my endlessly-breastfeeding baby was not gaining but losing weight; second-guessing every decision I had to make about supplementing, pumping, formula, etc; searching for answers which – when (or if) found – were never quite satisfactory…

The panicked, prickly adrenaline rush when racing to retrieve a tot from the edge of disaster; anxiety about setting and maintaining boundaries for adventurous little explorers without sacrificing their curious spirit nor damaging the maternal bond…

The exhaustion from a full and busy day that then spills into a long night with a sick child; weariness from dealing with other stages and problems that seem interminable and unsolveable…

The heavy burden of guilt – when impatience has become the standard response; when care and prayer haven’t yet yielded solutions to a parenting dilemma; when ‘at the end of my tether’ has become a habitual destination…

Some parenting difficulties, once finished, are easily forgotten.  Sleep issues are one of these.  We went through different phases with all of our kids where they’d need a lot of help to get to sleep, or they’d have trouble sleeping through the night.  At the time that we were going go through them I’d wonder when it was that we’d last had an easy evening or a full night’s sleep, and I couldn’t imagine that it was ever going to be easier to get our kid to sleep; but once we were finally through that phase I almost couldn’t remember why it had seemed like it was such a struggle (until the next sleepless phase was upon us).

But there are other tribulations I’ve faced as a parent that linger even after they’ve been dealt with; echoes of past struggles, internal debates that haunt me; circular arguments on repeat in my head.  Did I really make the right decision about x?  Could I have handled y better?  Should I have responded differently to z?  And how is it that I’ve got a kid who does/says that?!!!

Every time I think I’ve got a handle on one problem, another one crops up.  Just when I’m about to pat myself on the back, I end up having to slap myself on the back of the head, instead.

I mean, sure, there’s joy.  Sure, there are moments where I feel like all is right in my world (through God’s grace alone).  And certainly there is love – deep, fierce, strong, tender, and abiding.  There’s humour – because, after all, they can be funny little people (even when they’re not trying to be).

But where’s that moment – as yet so elusive – where I get to feel that I am doing well at this job?

Where’s the proof that my life’s work will result in the contented, loving, productive people of faith and character that I pray my boys will grow up to be???

I have come to the conclusion, again and again, that I am not able for this challenge of motherhood.  I’m not enough.  At times, this realisation of my profound inability has dragged me to the depths of despair.

But that despair doesn’t get the last word in my story.

Today at church we heard again about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes – actually, the two miracles of the loaves and the fishes, because we were reminded that first Jesus fed 5000+ people and then later he repeated the miracle with 4000+.  Both times, a crowd had gathered to learn from Jesus; he filled their souls and their minds, but another need arose: their stomachs needed filling, too.  The disciples asked around and gathered a paltry amount of food in the face of such need: a few loaves of bread and some fish.  It wasn’t enough.

Jesus took those loaves and those fish and he multiplied them.  The people who were gathered on the sand – and, later, the people who were gathered on the mountaintop – ate their fill, and there was still plenty left over.  God turned ‘not enough’ into an abundance.

I was reminded today that what we bring to God – what we bring to life – isn’t enough; but He multiplies our offerings.  We are unable, but He is able.  We are mired in our weakness, but in His strength he frees us.

Today I need to remember to simply make my offering.  I need to remember to trust in God’s ability to multiply, magnify, and sanctify my small, imperfect efforts.  I need to take tiny, shaky steps towards the goal, and trust in Him to bring me to the finish line.

I am not – and I never will be – enough.  But God is.

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Friends: There’s simply no way around it.  Unless you’re the perfect parent, or you have perfect kids (both of which, believe me, I thought were my destiny before I had kids), you’re going to have parenting trials.  Take heart.  I have been leaning on two verses recently, in my own hour of need:

‘Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’

                                                                                                -Matt.11:28

‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me’

                                                                                                -Phil.4:13

Bring your need: God will be your sufficiency.

Be encouraged, 

-Trix           x

 

 

 

 

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Life, Parenting, Philosophy

A Little Reminder

Old Shelter by Leonard J Matthews on flickr

 

“Nice place you got here!”

My toddler stands in our driveway, hands on hips, nodding appreciatively as he surveys our house.

“Why thank you, Kind Sir!” I reply, suppressing a giggle at this real estate connoisseur in a Pull-Up.

“Is it OUR house?” he asks, turning and squinting at me earnestly.

“Yes, it is,” I answer, deciding that it’s not the time to quibble about property ownership vs. tenancy.

D, at age three, wants to know what’s what.

Often he asks me why we have to have a house, and I tell him that we need shelter from the sun and the rain and the heat and the cold, and that we’re so lucky to have it.  I tell him that we have beds to sleep in, and they’re comfy and safe…  I tell him that, if we didn’t have those things, life would be pretty hard for us.

There seems to be some comfort for him in the repetition of these questions and the reassurance of my answers.  He comes away from the exchange satisfied; but I’m not sure that I am.

Every time my sweet child asks me about these things, I remember that our family has them – but that other families do not.  Every time I answer his questions about the necessity of our shelter, I’m reminded of others who are constantly seeking a place to rest their heads at night.

D has asked these questions so often lately that he now comes up with the answers himself:

Why do we have a house?  Is it so that we don’t have to get wet when it rains?

Why not do we have to sleep outside? [He’s still getting the hang of word order!] Is it because we have a house to sleep in?

Why do we have beds?  Is it because otherwise we’d have to sleep on the floor?”

This repetition – this listing by my littlest of the comforts we enjoy that I might otherwise take for granted – is a great reminder for me that what we have is a delight.  D acting as my own little reminder has helped put me in a posture of gratitude – so I thought I’d pass on the good turn.

Consider this a little reminder to count your blessings.  Let’s be grateful for all we have, and mindful of those who have not.  “Nice place you got here!” – Indeed!

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Faith, Motherhood, Parenting

Best of All

Best of All

Someone in this world loves me ‘Best of All’.

We were cuddled up together this morning as he gave me kisses and kisses and nose-nuzzles and squeezes and whispered sweet nothings to me – things like, “I love you SO much!”, and, “You’re the bestest Mama in the WHOLE WORLD!” (we can thank Doc McStuffins for that one…).  And I just drank in his adoration and revelled in the extra love I was getting to make up for the good-night cuddles I missed when I was out for dinner with his Daddy last night.

All my boys, as toddlers, have gone through a phase of being particularly attached to (and loving towards) their Mama.  All of them lavished me with unsolicited cuddles, and all of them were reluctant to leave my side when they had to be separated from me – and they were quick to return to my arms when we were reunited.

My first son had to be prised from first my legs and then the good-bye gate on his first morning at preschool – he was all clinging arms and legs, like some sort of reluctant octopus

My second son asked his preschool teachers, “When’s Mummy coming?” so many times that they eventually struck up a deal with him that he could only inquire about my e.t.a. three times in a morning.

My third son was happy enough with preschool, but he needed me to stay with him in the church nursery for ages, and even after he got used to it he’d make up for lost time with extra hugs and kisses when I picked him up.  At home, he’d follow me around like a little curly-headed shadow.

And now this little one is going through that stage where his world – and his devotion – centres on Mama.

Right now, he loves me best of all.  But it won’t last.

This adoration – this devotion – is a natural phase.  Some would say it’s a biological imperative – that, while children mature beyond the absolute necessity of our care in infancy, they demonstrate this heart-warming attachment to their parents to stir in us a protective response.  But I think it’s more than that – I feel that it’s also a response to a nurtured bond between a mother (or other primary caregiver) and her child.

Nevertheless – whether nature, nurture, or some combination of the two – it is temporary.

I will hopefully always be beloved by my sons; I certainly know that they will always be beloved by me.  But this stage of my being the very centre of their universe does not last, and nor is it meant to.

Their world – and their hearts – open up as they grow.  They realize that there’s room for loving and being attached to other people.  And mothers lose their singular place in the lives of their children.

As our kids grow into more independent beings – as they stretch their wings and take fledgling hops towards solo flight – they need us to provide for them a place where they know that they are loved best of all.  Because, while young children take it for granted that everyone around them utterly adores them, older children understand that there are some limits to how adorable they are (and to whom they are adorable) and therefore need the assurance that home is still a safe and loving place.  In the midst of peer pressure, negative experiences and the challenge of discerning between competing influences, older kids need to know that home is where they’re loved best of all.

It’s really easy to get into a habit of nitpicking, criticizing, or arguing with kids as they push away in establishing their independence.  But whatever we do, we need to be conscious of the fact that our actions will affect how safe and loving our kids perceive our home to be.  (And oh, man – I don’t know about you, but that feels like a LOT of pressure to me!)

Fortunately for me, as a Christian I am able to give my kids some added assurance.  Not only is home where they’re loved best of all; not only are we (their parents and family) the ones who love them best of all – there is Another who loves them best of all, too.

The Lord your God is with you;
his power gives you victory.
The Lord will take delight in you,
and in his love he will give you new life.
He will sing and be joyful over you.

-Zephaniah 3:17

God loves our kids unreservedly.  God loves our kids eternally.  God loves our kids personally.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                                                                                  -Romans 8:37-39

God loves our kids ‘best of all’.

And they’re not the only ones, either.  He loves us just the same.  Best of all.

No matter who we are or what we’ve done, no matter where we are in our faith – even regardless of whether or not we love him back – there will always be someone who loves each one of us ‘best of all’.  And as He’s the One who was there before time began, we can be confident that it’s not just a passing phase.

Please don’t forget that.  Please don’t dismiss it or make excuses for why it can’t be true.  Just know it.

God loves YOU best of all.

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Motherhood, Parenting, Personal Growth, Relationships

How to Be an Emotional Adult

Angry kitten by zhouxuan12345678 on flickr

Last week I wrote about helping kids to navigate the often murky waters of their own feelings.  This is an important investment of our time as parents, to be sure – but kids aren’t the only ones who need to increase their emotional intelligence.  Some grown-ups still have a lot of growing-up to do when it comes to identifying, handling, and expressing emotion, too.

We adults – just like our kids – can be pretty clueless about how we’re feeling in some situations.  Why, otherwise, would we pull a kid back to prevent him from stepping off a curb into traffic and express our relief at having saved them by yelling at them?!  You know, the old “You could have died!  I’m gonna wring your neck!” speech… * We don’t choose carefully measured words because we are a jumble of nerves and emotions at that moment that we’ve saved a child from the precipice.  We can’t reasonably process all that we’re feeling – and so we express ourselves poorly.

*[Disclaimer here: it is a normal reaction to speak in violent hyperbole when rescuing children from certain death – this does not mean that we follow through with actual physical violence.]

We adults aren’t just clueless about how we’re feeling.  As the above example demonstrates, we’re not always in control of our emotions, either.  We don’t always express our anxiety, anger, or sadness appropriately.  But letting our kids see that we’re working on being better at those things can help them to realize that it’s important for them to make the same effort.  And yes, if we find that we’re consistently ‘venting’ in ways that aren’t healthy for our families or making excuses for yelling, ranting, and raging, then it’s time to get help.

I find it useful to give my family a ‘heads-up’ when I’m feeling particularly stressed or hormonal – not so that I have an excuse for losing my temper, but so that they can understand if I’m not as patient as I’d like to be.  And an apology goes a long way; if we admit that we’ve behaved in a way that we’re not proud of, it puts the responsibility for our actions on our own shoulders so that our kids are less likely to take a sharp answer or impatient attitude personally.  Apologising also demonstrates an important point:

We are responsible for our own actions, even when we feel that our negative feelings might excuse the poor choices we make in expressing those emotions.

We are the adults.  We need to be committed to striving for emotional maturity (more on that later).

It’s important to realize, too, that there are cultural and family differences that influence where we set our threshold for emotional expression.

Brits (and British colonials) have generally exhibited a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to emotion; that is, don’t let that lower lip wobble and show your vulnerability, but push your feelings to the side and get on with it.  Latin temperaments tend towards the opposite end of the spectrum; Italians and people from other Latinate backgrounds are more likely to display their feelings in a ‘fiesta’ of passions; in those societies, it’s considered braver and more honest to express emotion than to contain it.  Both of these approaches have their benefits and their costs.  When we never address how we’re feeling, we risk becoming too repressed and never making ourselves truly known (nor ever truly knowing others); when we allow ourselves unrestricted expression of emotion, we can cause rifts in our relationships when we vent our frustrations in a heated moment (because seldom do these frustrations typify our feelings about the other person/people the rest of the time – they’re a flash in the pan).

Whether your family growing up embodied the ‘fight hard, love hard’ approach to life, or whether they exhibited a ‘tortoise’ mentality (duck down and wait ‘til it’s over – hide in your shell from those uncomfortable feelings), it WILL have an impact on how you behave in your own relationships today.  It will also affect how you behave in your role as a parent.  But it doesn’t have to be just a matter of walking in your parents’ shoes – you can make deliberate choices to achieve what you feel is a healthy balance (bearing in mind that you don’t want to be extremely to one side or the other of this spectrum).

So, what does emotional maturity look like?  Well, to me it looks something like this:

  • Acknowledging emotions – Accepting that you are an emotional being, and that feelings lend both colour and meaning to your existence.
  • Correctly identifying emotions – “Am I scared? Anxious?  Frustrated? Lonely?”
  • Tracing the source of your feelings – “This feels like anger, but what am I really upset about? Do I feel ignored?  Am I just hungry or tired and so my patience has petered out?”
  • Avoiding blame You’re responsible for your own reactions, and you shouldn’t allow the actions of others to control how you feel.
  • Expressing your emotions in a helpful, considerate, and honest manner – not ‘venting’ or allowing your emotions to control your behaviour to an unhealthy degree.

One of the signs of true emotional maturity in a parent is not mirroring your kids’ craziness back to them.  If your kid’s angry, then he’s angry – it doesn’t mean you have to be, too.  When your preschooler is losing it at the gate into school, you don’t have to burst into tears along with her (even though your heart is breaking) – because you know that you have to hold it together for her sake.

And please don’t think I’m holding myself up as any sort of epitome of emotional maturity here – I am SUCH a work-in-progress on this.  I’m not there yet – but I know where the goal posts are, and I am ever striving towards them.

Our kids need good role models who understand emotion and deal with their feelings in a healthy way.  Parents, let’s work towards demonstrating emotional maturity as we deal with our kids and the other people in our lives who make us crazy!  

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