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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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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Life, Parenting, Personal Growth

If You’re Happy and You Know It

emotions by Daniel on flickr

A bloodcurdling scream broke through my reverie.  I was searching for the right word to place in a sentence and D. (then two-and-a-half) was playing happily with his toy kitchen tools when something got the better of him – a cap he couldn’t quite unscrew.

As was his default response to frustration at the time, he screamed.

“Can’t DO DAT!” he shouted with exasperation, shaking with the effort of trying to undo the jar cap.

I had rushed to his side in response to his shriek – not knowing whether he was hurt or otherwise.  So when I saw what was causing his distress, I bent down beside him and stroked his hair.

“You can’t undo the cap, so you’re frustrated!” I said.

“Yeth.  Fruth-trated,” he lisped.

“Shall I help you?  Here – turn it this way,” I undid the jar, “And the next time you have trouble, you can call Mama instead of shouting, OK?  You can tell me that you’re frustrated.”

He played happily again, and I returned to my computer to finish the paragraph I was writing.

These are the toddler years.  The years of Big Feelings and no maturity to deal with them.  The years that give us a glimpse of what it’ll be like to deal with them and their emotional ups and downs in years to come.

It wasn’t always that easy.  He wasn’t always so quickly placated.

Sometimes the rage built up and he gave vent to toddler angst that was undirected, unrestrained, and seemingly unstoppable.  He’d scream and cry in response to a perceived injustice and sob for a while afterwards, even in the comfort of my arms.  But he has been learning.  Now, barely three, he is finding words for his feelings.  I’m teaching him to name his emotions as I teach him to deal with them, too.

This is a part of parenting that can challenge even the most zen mother or father.  Emotional outbursts, especially the off-the-chart reactions to upsets – and the ridiculous reasons for kids feeling upset in the first place – can drive parents crazy.  There are hilarious websites dedicated to the mercurial temperaments and unreasonable demands of toddlers (Reasons My Son is Crying and The Honest Toddler are two of many).

But it also makes sense.

We all know that we can turn to a kid and find them blue-lipped and shivering in a T-shirt with their warm coat sitting right beside them.  It’s like they don’t even know they’re cold.  In fact, if we were to comment on their frozen appearance, they’d likely deny feeling any discomfort.  But if we were to throw their coat over their shoulders, they’d probably snuggle into it and enjoy the relief of warming up.

Similarly, it can take an adult to identify the leg-plucking, wriggly jitterbug as the ‘pee pee dance’ and send a kid off to use the toilet – whereas the child himself might not figure out that he was bursting to go until he had to make a mad dash for relief.

A lot of the time, kids don’t recognize what they’re feeling.

And if kids are oblivious to physical input like this, think of how much less aware they are of the emotional side of things.

This is why, when a child is feeling left out or ridiculed at school, he’ll come home and treat his siblings unkindly.  Why he’ll fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.  Why he accuses his family of not loving or caring about him when he’s disciplined.  He doesn’t know what his feelings are, and he definitely doesn’t know what to do with them.

So we as parents have to be prepared to act as guides for our kids.  We have to help them navigate the process of figuring out their feelings and finding ways of expressing those emotions.

This isn’t just a matter of letting kids ‘vent’.  While we definitely don’t want to dismiss our kids’ feelings, I don’t think it’s healthy to encourage a tirade from them whenever they’re upset about something – and I feel that encouraging them to express their emotions physically (i.e. punching a pillow) can actually increase aggression.  We don’t want to allow our children an unfettered response to every emotional trigger.  But helping kids identify feelings and giving them boundaries within which they can express those emotions will open up a world of communication and self-awareness that would otherwise be closed to them.

If they’re frustrated, acknowledge their frustrationIf they say, “It’s not FAIR!” don’t tell them that it is – tell them you understand how they’re feeling and accept that this feels BAD to them: “It doesn’t seem fair and you want things to be equal.  What would that look like, to you?”  This position is respectful of them and their emotions but also invites an exchange of ideas, leading to the opportunity for you, as a parent, to provide some perspective.

If they’re sad, provide nurture.  Come alongside them in their unhappiness.  Not, “What are you crying about?  That’s just ridiculous!” but, “Oh, honey – you’re so sad about this!  Can I give you a cuddle?”  From the warmth of your embrace and the sanctuary you provide when you acknowledge their feelings, they can often get beyond the trigger for their tears and down to the root of their upset.

If they’re angry, don’t reflect their rage. This is the hardest one for me – my pulse starts racing and I begin feeling defensive, and pretty soon I’m as upset as they are.  Anger, in particular, is usually a secondary emotion; that is, a child (or adult) is feeling lonely, misunderstood, dismissed, or whatever – and that sadness or upset grows into a feeling of defensiveness and anger.  But at the root of the rage is this little child who just desperately needs understanding.  When we don’t react to their anger, we open up the potential for them to engage with their primary emotion and deal with it.  This becomes a preventative for future outbursts.

If they’re excited, give them the freedom to express it in childish waysIt’s so easy to become irritated with excitable kids – they’re silly, loud, and can even be a bit aggressive – but we need to cut them some slack.  Yes, we need to maintain boundaries for them, but we also need to set boundaries around our own feelings.  “OK, they’re acting a bit crazy – but it’s so exciting for them that they’re going to this birthday party and they’re having trouble containing themselves.”

The caveat to this, of course, is that we don’t want to affirm their feelings so much that they continue to respond inappropriately to every upset.  The child who always feels victimized by whatever anyone else does clearly needs to be taught a different viewpoint – it’s just that this teaching should be step two of the process

“Jack’s always bugging me!”

1)“You’re getting frustrated with Jack”; 2) “You feel like he never leaves you alone.  I think he just wants you to notice him – maybe he feels left out.  Do you think that you could find a way of including him so that he doesn’t bug you to get your attention?”

Step 1: Acknowledge/name the feeling; Step 2: Analyze the feeling and determine/discuss the appropriate response/action. [Step 3 might include Addressing future courses of action – helping the child determine the correct response the next time]

Here’s another example:

“You’re feeling angry at me because it’s time to leave the park [Acknowledgement].  We need to go now, but we can come back another time [Action] – and because you’re coming right when I’ve called you, we’ll be able to stay a little longer next time [a little motivation – Addressing the future – thrown in for good measure].

There’s no rulebook for how to deal with the daily tantrum or the constant complaints of unfairness or the tearful declarations of wishing to be part of “ANOTHER family!” – except that we need to work hard to move past our kids’ behaviour in order to dig deeper into the feelings that precipitate that behaviour.

It would be great if there were just a one-size-fits-all explanation for why kids act the way they act, but there isn’t.

What we do know is that educating a child about his emotions helps him become more emotionally intelligent as he grows: read this article to find out more We’ve got to believe that it’s an important investment of our time.

*if you’re in a hurry, skip down to the next asterisk – this is just some insight into my own family, and how I’m working with their individual personalities*

All my boys are different. 

A is mercurial – he can be so polite, ingratiating and helpful – but his demeanor can change on a hair trigger and when it does he embodies the typical out-of-control screechy pre-adolescent. At this age, he’s a bundle of emotions. There’s plenty of self-doubt and a somewhat negative self-image (thanks to careless comments by schoolmates and siblings), and these are just fuel for the fire when something sets him off.  Two minutes later, he’s penitent and loving.  His apology is so sincere that the rest of us, still reeling from his latest outburst, can do nothing but forgive and embrace.  Later, though, there is time for the conversation.  Right now we’re working on identifying the triggers that lead to him flying off the handle – and I’m working on staying calm in the moment and not reacting to his anger.

B is super-sensitive – For a kid who generally seems confident (almost to the point of arrogance), he is remarkably thin-skinned. Turns out that what seems like self-belief can sometimes be a veneer on a lot of insecurity. He says he’s the fastest runner in his class, because it’s important for him to feel like he is – but he also doubts his own ability.  This means that he can be extremely defensive, argumentative, and touchy.  He acts like he’s pretty tough and resilient, but when the cracks appear we catch a glimpse of a deeply sensitive soul.  Even when he was a toddler, there were songs that touched his heart and brought him to tears.  He’s always the kid who sits there clearing his throat during a sad movie, “Oh, I’ve just got something in my eye!”  Our challenge with him is to encourage him to be vulnerable with his emotions and not project this armour of arrogance – and, of course, to help him to navigate the deeper emotions when he would otherwise see them as weakness.

C is a stoic – I work hard to get him to acknowledge that he has any emotions, let alone getting him to name them. The answer to “How was school?” is always, “Good!” and the response to my query about the high-points and low-points of his day is always an outright denial of anything negative (he refuses to acknowledge any low-points – unless it is to point out that the sandwich I packed wasn’t to his liking!). Hey, at least he’s happy-go-lucky, I hear you thinking, but of course we need to give him space and license to experience the deeper emotions – even the negative ones – as well.

D is a bit young yet – but as a toddler he’s a bit of a mix. He’s very loving with us – particularly with me (lucky Mama!) – but he’s not always quick to embrace others. In the church nursery he has, on a number of occasions, announced loudly that he “HATEs BABIES!” – to which I always respond, “You don’t like it when I pay attention to babies. I’m still your Mama, and you’re always my baby, but we need to be gentle and kind to babies.”  Our job with him is to love and encourage, to set firm boundaries but chastise gently, and to help him identify his emotions as we guide his expression of the same.

*If you’re reading the shorter version of this post, welcome back!*

We need to teach our kids to embrace their feelings, because we were created to be emotional beings.  We also need to teach our children how to express and manage their emotions.

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.

– Proverbs 16:32

Raising emotionally intelligent kids is a complex but vital part of parenting.  We accomplish this by acknowledging their feelings (and not dismissing them), analyzing their emotions (why they’re feeling that way and determining an appropriate response), and addressing how they might make good choices in expressing their emotions in the future.

Obviously we’re better able to help our kids with these things when we, as parents, are emotionally intelligent as well.  In my next post I’ll talk a bit about how we as adults process our feelings.  We’re works in progress, too!

Here’s to happy, healthy kids!

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Faith, Life, Philosophy, Relationships

Have Courage, and Be Kind

The Kindness of Strangers by Darinka Maja on flickr

I sit here in the golden light of evening, wrapped up snug and warm in my duvet.  I’m holed up in my room for some quiet writing time, and it feels like bliss.

I haven’t been finding enough time for writing – not enough for writing blog posts, anyway, although I’ve been working on a piece for a local publication.  When Westley ushers me out of the chaos of boy noise and action and into the sanctum of this quiet space to collect and record my thoughts, I know that he cares.  He understands what it means to me to have this time to process feelings, thrash out ideas, and write, write, write.

And the thing is, the more I feel cared for by West, the more I feel connected with him.  So even though I am here, far from the madding crowd (as it were), and he – bless him – is in the midst of it, our connection is nurtured.

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A week or so ago, we watched Disney’s latest ‘Cinderella’ movie.  In the film, the protagonist Ella’s dying mother gives her an enduring piece of advice:

“Have courage, and be kind.”

This motto, which Ella puts into practice throughout the movie, resonates with me.

The necessity of the first part of this counsel is evidenced throughout the trials and challenges of life; if we are to chase dreams, pursue goals, and follow our hearts, we will undoubtedly encounter obstacles along the way.  Having the courage to face and overcome those obstacles is key to both success and happiness.  Not only that but, although we don’t always realize it, having courage is often a necessary step towards connection with others.

It takes courage to approach people we don’t know – even if we imagine that some of them might have the potential to become our friends.

It takes courage to show empathy to those outside our immediate sphere.

It takes courage to meet people where they’re at (and, for me, that includes having the courage to drive new roads and tackle traffic in unfamiliar areas!).

It takes courage to perform, speak, or play in front of people.

It takes courage to make ourselves vulnerable in sharing our hearts.

But each of these things, if we summon the courage to do them, can lead us into a closer relationship with those around us.

I remember, on my first solo trip overseas as a young adult, meeting another young woman on the Tube from Heathrow.  We were similarly adorned with large backpacks and other carry-ons; but whereas I was journeying into my adventures, she was returning home from hers.  We got to chatting, as you do, and she shared with me how excited she was to see her family again, but that she felt it was so important that she’d been brave enough to head off and go travelling on her own.  She said, “I was so scared to leave, but I realized that courage isn’t doing something without being scared – it’s about doing something you need or want to do in spite of the fear.”

That wise young backpacker – she was probably a decade and a half younger than I am now, but she’d got it right.  Being courageous doesn’t require us to be fearless; it requires us to do the important thing even when we are afraid.

And as for kindness, well, it has been on my heart lately to write about the symbiosis between caring and connection.  Everywhere I look, I see the one leading to the other, and it is a beautiful thing.

A while back, I heard the story of Tinney Davidson (as depicted here in a Canadian TV news segment).  Mrs. Davidson is in her eighties.  When her husband retired, the two of them began a habit of waving to the high school students as the teens walked by their living room window en route to and from school each day – and pretty soon many of the students were waving back.  Her husband passed away some time ago, but Mrs. Davidson has continued her practice of greeting the students walking by her house.  She makes a point of being there to see them.  This elderly lady has shown caring, simply by making a point of greeting these kids, and the result has been a connection that runs deeper than either she or the teenagers could have anticipated.

Then there’s that Thai life insurance commercial – you know the one?  (It’s here if you’ve missed it.)  In the video, we see a young man going about his day.  On his way to and from work, he performs one small act of kindness after another: he pushes a parched plant under a dripping gutter; he helps a vendor push her unwieldy cart across the road; he shares his lunch with a stray dog; he reaches into his wallet and pulls out one of the few bills within to give to a begging mother-and-daughter; he hangs a small bunch of bananas on an elderly neighbour’s door handle.  And at the end of the day, this generous man sits down alone to a simple meal of boiled rice.  He is not rich; but we see by the end of the video that he has cultivated relationships with those around him – his wealth is in the connections he has forged through his kindness.  And he has made a true difference by caring; the poor beggar-woman has been able to send her daughter to school.

It’s such a simple video, and yet it has gone viral – it touches people profoundly.

The reason kindness is so powerful is this: we are all LONGING to connect.  Kindness is a means to that connection. (It is, too, an expression of love – and a response to the goodness with which God has blessed us – and the fringe benefit is that we become more deeply connected with others through it.)

We all need relationship.  Oh yes – even introverts.  Even if you connect with others and then need to retreat from the world to regain your sense of equilibrium, I’ll bet that, deep down, you still covet connection.

I take, as further evidence of this truth, the enthusiasm with which my little gang of boys and I are greeted as we arrive on the path to school.  One little boy, who’s accompanied to school by his loving Grandma, leaves her side to make a beeline for our party when he spies us.  He hops off his scooter and slows his pace (and ours!), as if to draw out the time until we arrive at the schoolroom; and he always has something he wants to chat about.  He looks up at me, eager to share some little nugget of news or other.  Why?  He wants connection.  His Mama is working in the morning, but he’s still craving that Mama-time – and I’ll do in a pinch.  He’s not neglected – no doubt he’s loved and cherished by his parents as much as our boys are loved and cherished by us – but he has a specific need for a mother’s nurture.  I recognize it, because my boys have the same need – and that’s why our morning walk and hang-out time before school is so precious to me.  If I were working away from home at that time, I’d hope that another Mama would understand their need for reassurance and show them just a little bit of kindness to fortify them for the day ahead.  Eye contact, a pat on the shoulder, a listening ear, and an encouraging word as they head into school – it’s a simple thing, but it makes a big difference.

Another boy joins us for our walk home.  He makes a point of checking in with me and asking us to wait while he fetches his scooter so that he can walk home with us – even though we only go a portion of the way with him.  This boy is ten – not yet old enough to be left on his own, and yet (by necessity of his situation) he does spend a lot of time at home alone.  He’s mature, worldly (possibly rather too sophisticated for his age), and very self-assured.  And yet this child, too, craves connection.  He is thirsty for a mother’s attention, because his own Mum has to be at work to provide for him.

It is a small kindness to notice the people in our lives who need us to share a bit of ourselves.  The old lady whom we see through her window, sitting alone in her living room – or the young teenagers, alternately unsure and cocky, striding along the sidewalk outside our house.  A young man who dines alone each night – or the poor woman who’s desperate for the means to allow her daughter to attend school.  The little boy who needs a stand-in for his Mummy at the beginning of the day – or the older boy who just wants to connect with a caring adult before he heads home to an empty house.  Even my very own boys, clamouring for my attention and trying my last nerves at the end of a busy day.

The reward for this caring is connection.

Have courage, and be kind.

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What situation in your life is demanding your courage, your caring, or your kindness?

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Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that connection is very important to me.  I’ve just set up a new way to connect with my readers, too: if you’re on facebook, head along to my new fb page: [https://www.facebook.com/autocratricks]  This is my new way to notify friends of the latest posts and to share more informally with my readers.  Thanks in advance for checking it out, and for ‘Liking’ and sharing it!

– Trix

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