Live life like a mother

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An intense lesson in living, shocking enough to make sure you never live casually again. The first time you hold your newborn against your naked self, you are tired and slightly traumatised, yet strangely alive with passion and resolve. You will never live life in quite the same way again.

The over used notion of “intentionality’ does not begin to do this justice.

This is how so many women heard their first call to live life more fully. One small new life made you a mother, it gave you a vocation. You said would never be the same again and what you meant was you would live your life more fiercely now because of that little someone else. Suddenly the possibilities for joy increased, the opportunities for growth multiplied but isn’t this also true: so did the opportunities to be flung into wild living panic at a moments notice, to lie awake sleepless in unexplainable despair.

We learn some of the most beautiful lessons of our lives there between the night feeds and the groggy mornings trying to find a pair of socks that match, persuading the little ones out of the door amidst arguments about why you can’t take your comfort blanket to nursery with you, why you can’t wear the fairy princess costume to school. Didn’t we feel out done by first dates and Facebook fall-outs and teenagers who believed they were too fat or too thin? Didn’t we lose the plot over course work deadlines not met and lost bus passes, parties with alcohol and learning to drive? But somewhere, somehow we found the right words and when that failed we found the right silence. We showed up and we showed love beyond a simple hug and kiss. We were creative, resourceful and inspiring but mainly lost and always out of our depth.

Behind the closed doors of our family homes, amongst piles of discarded toys and the bags of outgrown clothes that never made it to the charity shop, we did the hard work of becoming more human and helping our children do the same. Overdue library books under the bed, longed for pets that need to be fed, a half empty fridge and still we put food on the table everyday, because kids are hungry beasts and who knew how much pleasure can be found in sitting round a table at the end of the day. Our plates were full and so were our lives. Achievement, success, hidden talents and reserves of strength found in surprising places at surprising times, but never more so than now.

I don’t want any mother to feel defined or confined by narrow definitions of what it is to parent as women or for any man to feel his contribution is diminished. I don’t want anyone to be excluded because they chose not to mother or didn’t have the opportunity to mother even when it was something they longed for with all their heart.

I only want to say that there is a quality in mothering that makes you come alive and small lesson in living that we should be sharing with the world.

Our world needs more resilience, more resourcefulness, more hope. “Live life like a mother,” I keep whispering to myself as I pick my way through the complexities of a too anxious life. Write like a mother, teach like a mother, love like a mother, grieve like a mother. The world could do worse that practise a little more of this good love, this forbearance of the hard things, for the sake of those who need our care.

Here are some of the things that motherhood taught me. This is how I live life like a mother.
Choose your battles
I wasn’t giving into them, spoiling them, pandering to them, I was choosing my battles. Choosing your battles means accepting that there is plenty wrong in this world and you are not big enough to change it all today. One small step at a time is the way to proceed, by choosing  the things that matter the most.

Be a grown up
A time comes when we are just too old to tantrum and throw the toys out of the pram every time things don’t go to plan. I still remember where I was when I realised I was the grown up in my family situation and that my children were looking to me, to draw the boundaries, make the decisions, extend the care and  make their world safe. They weren’t being demanding, they were just being children and suddenly I wanted them to enjoy this part of childhood. I wanted to create an age appropriate environment where the balance of safety and challenge fell on the side of safety.  Be the grown up to the people in life who are in need of this type of care.

Give others the freedom to be themselves
I always imagined that my first child would be a well behaved, gentle spirited girl, academically precocious and musically gifted. But my first child was not this and eventually I learn to stop trying to turn him into the fabled person I wanted him to be. Ultimately you cannot control another human being. You cannot dictate their beliefs , preferences or behaviours. As your children get older they will make choices that you feel you did not raise them to make, choices that you think are wrong. Sometimes you have to let them. In this world too many relationships are marred by manipulation and the desire to control. Find another way to play a part in the lives of the people you love. Control is never good.

Practise the art of imperfection
Life is messy. Children will only make it messier but once you’ve found a way to be comfortable with this you increase your ability to do well in other areas of life. Things go wrong. Mistakes are made. Learn a little resilience and give yourself a break. Your role is not to work hard to hide your imperfections from the world. Your role is to find a way of living that embraces mess and gets on anyway. It is very tiring putting on a show to the world that everything is OK when often it is not. It’s very isolating to suggest to other people that you have it together when you do not. Live authentically, wear your imperfections with ease and help others to do the same.

Be kind
Children need discipline and sometimes love has to be tough but how often did we make everyone’s life much harder with misplaced tough love. A battle with a toddler is rarely about who is right. You are almost certainly right but this is probably not the best time to making your point. I am convinced that its better to be kind than to be right and I’m willing to risk making a wrong call if necessary. So often we thought our zero tolerance approach would pay us dividends in the future and it only made the situation more intransigent. If in doubt, be kind.

Enjoy it
Despite the challenges, parenting should be fun, more love and joy that anything else. And this is true of life. I can not except that life is a drudge, a brief period lived in miserable suffering. I’m not a natural optimist, I’m just someone who has decided I need to live in pursuit of good things, rather than living to struggle with bad things. My children ultimately make this easier. They give me plenty of reasons to be glad. When seasons of life bring trouble I go in pursuit of beauty and joy more fiercely than before.

What has being a parent taught you about living life well?

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What I’m into in February

What I'm Into

 

I’m linking  up with Leigh Kramer for the very popular “What I’m into” series.

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What I’m reading

Kate Atkinson – Since Christmas I’ve caught up on all the Kate Atkinson that I’ve missed since reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum sometime in the nineties. I loved Life After Life, but if I described the outstanding features of the novel it would sound like a gimmick. What KA pulls off in this book is truly remarkable. The work is built around a series of ‘what if …?’  and KA’s seamless handling of multiple possible outcomes in one narrative is a rare literary accomplishment. Compelling, utterly convincing and unselfconscious. Great characters, strong historical setting and multifaceted plot. Loved it along with A God in Ruins.

 

Margaret Atwood – Atwood is my main author this year and I have set myself the task of reading all of her novels and hopefully some poetry and non-fiction before Christmas. I thought The Blind Assassin was simply stunning and this month I have read the short story collection, Stone Mattress. These stories are engaging, entertaining and wickedly clever. Atwood’s mastery of genres, complex literary references and finely tuned characters are everything I love about reading contemporary fiction.

John Galsworthy – The only thing I knew about the Forsythe Saga before I started it a couple of weeks ago is the infamous rape scene which is intrinsic to the plot of these stories but completely inadequate in capturing the depth and breadth of a wonderful family saga told over three generations. This writing is a pleasing combination; everything I love about Victorian fiction plus added character consciousness one would expect from a modern novel

Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God – Andy and I are reading this in our own date night book club. Jersak is an Orthodox theologian and this is a helpful read for anyone who has trouble with those Old Testament stories where God take murderous revenge on his enemies. More generally the book offers a bible hermeneutic that helps them iron out inconsistent and unhelpful beliefs about about God that we may have inadvertently picked up along our way.

Michelle Paver – Our  book club book this month was Michelle Paver’s first adult novel, Dark Matter. Everyone in the group enjoyed this read but with a few minor reservations: some of us didn’t find it scary enough (it is supposed to be a ghost story) and others found the characters and the setting unconvincing. But we did all finish it and that says something about it as a good safe read.

Today I’m giving away  my copy of Dark Matter to one of my readers. All you need to do is like or comment on this post on Facebook or on the blog and I will draw a name for a winner, Monday 7th March.

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What I’m watching

I’m thoroughly enjoying my TV at the moment; long evenings knitting and catching up on favourites via the player are becoming quite routine. These favourites include, Dickensian, War and Peace, Call the Midwife, Shetland, Trapped, Happy Valley and The Night Manager.

On the internet

Loving my mom blogs at the moment and am earnestly in search of writer who can help me negotiate the tackiness of parenting older children. All recommendations welcome. In the mean time I’m mainly enjoying,

Vanilla Latte To Go – written by one of my playgroup mom, very funny.

We are that Family – on my radar for a long time and occasionally referred to, I’m now reading this regularly.

What I’m knitting

Baby cardigans. I have a vintage Peter Pan booklet with ten or so patterns that I want to try out and I’m slowly working my way through it. I wish all the babies of the world could be wrapped up warm in hand knitted cardis.

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The dangers of Instagram envy

 

 

The dangers of Instagram envy

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On Friday a blog writer I admire posted a picture of her desk on Instagram: an unremarkable white arrangement with a pretty table lamp and well stocked supplies of stationary, all parked up against a couple of sun filled windows looking out over trees. Her coffee cup was perched by her laptop and something about the light in the room suggested peaceful mornings working undisturbed to the quiet sound of bird song and the tapping of keys. The caption under the picture said that she had just completed the first 5000 words of her new book.

I was green with envy and paralysed with fear. I haven’t written since (not until today). This is what someone else success can do to us when we’re taken unaware.

Nothing makes my heart sink more than someone else writing well, completing their word count on time, winning a book contract. I begin to ruminate darkly upon my lack of success and dismal writing habits. I will probably never write again …

Jealousy is an emotional response to fears that surround a perceived loss of status or security and envy is a feeling of discontent regarding someone else’s success. Neither of these things are very pretty and will always fail to bring out the best in us, always result in a loss of connection with others. It is very draining to live in a world where you are under attack when good things happen to other people and your own blessings start to dim.

But this is not just a piece about the sin of envy.

Like so much of what I write the piece will eventually lead to thanksgiving. This is a piece on living more fully in the truth of who I am and how much God loves me, in a bid to protect myself and others from the harmful affects of envy. There is a quality in God’s love that is worth stopping to examine because it has such a huge impact on small day to day inconveniences like feeling I am not good enough or being distracted from a path I previously felt I was called to. The quality of love I refer to is very distinctive and we sometimes think of it in terms of his intentions for us, his plan for our life, or as a calling that existed since the beginning of time. In essence it is God saying “It is good” and it bestows on us as individuals immense value. If it is true we can live completely secure with a sure sense of our own place in the world, without recourse to be jealous of anyone else.

We should not be surprised that God always warned against envy. There in those ancient commandments spoken to Moses, shared by the first followers of God, forebears of our very own beautiful gospel, are warnings against the sin of covetousness. They come like a postscript at the end of a more obvious lists of sins, adultery, murder and theft and sometimes seems out of place there. The tenth commandment tells us we should not covet what another person has and we should not be surprised because there in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had already encountered the results of allowing their eyes to wander from what God had given to them onto what he had clearly not.

God placed them in a garden that was pleasing to the eye, a place full of plants with fruit that promise to provide them with everything they needed. He had given them each other and invested in them a measure of himself that he named “likeness”. Between the two of them he had placed a degree of companionship that flowed from his own recognition of the need they had to never be alone. The garden was well watered with rivers that promised to flow forever and within the bounds of that place, those two original individuals were free to wander and free to work, free to eat and free to love. But they were not satisfied because they had noticed something outside of this divine remit, a tree that was not theirs, a fruit that they could not eat. The more they thought upon it, the more their eye was drawn to it, they were preoccupied by its presence, so near and yet so far. It is as if the original sin was their inability to live in what had been given to them. Fuelled by a nagging thought that maybe God had lied and something better lay outside of their share of that Eden life, they took their destinies into their own hands. Believing that the gift God had given them was not enough they took something that was never meant for them, an ultimate distraction that led to death.

Giving thanks is not a soft practice. When I give thanks I acknowledge something that is true about myself and the world I inhabit. I acknowledge this is the place that God gave to me and all this provision comes from his hand. I agree with him that it is good. To say “thank you”, is the biggest and best “yes” that I can give to God and every small gratitude pulls me closer into the purposes he has for me.

So I log out of Instagram and turn off the RSS feed. I sit down at my desk. The pale wood veneer is peeling off the front edge and exposing the chipboard beneath, my chair is hard. The computer is very slow and the internet a little troublesome again. I’m sharing this small space with a rather ugly printer and a messy pile of papers that require attention but for now I’ll enjoy the quietness of the house and the pale light of a dull February day. There are daffodils on the mantlepiece and I think I will write again.

Something lovely for the weekend (20.2.16)

 

When I was a student, living in a tiny room in the halls of residence at Grizedale College, I had an index card tacked to the side of my wardrobe, in a place where I could see it whenever I sat at my desk. I was so attached to that index card that I would take it home in the holidays and tack it where I could read it when I woke. I had a deep longing to find real peace. It was a longing to find the peace that I was convinced my faith in Christ afforded me, yet in truth it alluded me most of the time.

The card read,

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

These lines are from the famous hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, written by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. They are usually sung to the tune ‘Repton’ by Parry, best known for the music of the hymn  Jerusalem.

I battled with the words as Jacob battled with the angel; I will not let you go unless you bless me.

To confess a faith of peace and joy, without ever knowing it for sure is a very tiring business.

So let us never give up …

I was so please to find this beautiful rendition from Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy.

Something lovely for the weekend (15.2.16)

 

Since I published on Thursday, this version of the song No longer Slaves, has been on my mind, along with the incredible idea that he split the sea so we could walk right through it.

I simply love those moments when we sense dry ground beneath our feet with the waters still raging to our right and our left. Still raging, but from a distance, near enough to hear, near enough to see but not near enough to even get me wet, let alone sweep me away.

I can sing this song on the most ordinary of days preparing my heart for worse days ahead when the storm will rage and the flood waters rise.

Just watch how Steffany Frizzell sing the lines,

You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me, so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Those hand actions are nothing like the ones we do at rhyme time in toddler group. Something more profound is happening here, out of the abundance of the heart her hands speak (Luke 6.45) This is what prophetic delivery of a song looks like. Really beautiful!

Have a lovely weekend!

Protest song

 

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
After a couple of repetitions the chorus has buried itself deep into my most needy places. Sometimes you feel as if you could sing an old truth into new being and it causes you to sing a little harder and a little louder.
The worship leader is young and he wears his guitar high on his chest. Between songs he shakes out his fingers as if the sheer pressure of strumming is causing him pain. With his eye tightly shut he’s reaching out into the invisible expanse beyond the four walls of this borrowed meeting room. We are parents, we are grandparents. We are married, divorced, abandoned and reconciled. We have failed and found our way back and we will fail again. There are friends here in this room and I watched them walk through difficult days; friends here who held my hand whilst I walked out my own.

Rage, rage! I think as I sing, rage against the terrors of this desperate world: hurt, despair and loss of hope. Cancer, depression and relationships gone awry. War, greed and bleeding poverty, refugees on the borders in distant lands and also closer to home.

We sing on and I know why I like this song so much: this song is a protest song.

A protest song is a song we might link to a political movement: an English song from the Levellers, an abolitionist song from the American folk tradition or an anti-war anthem from the Vietnam years. It is designed to attracts followers to a cause by perfectly expressing their moods of dissatisfaction. A protest song is a tool in the hands of an oppressed group who would otherwise have no voice. It begins as a rallying cry and ends as the anthem of a movement that has changed the world in some small way.

Mahalia Jackson, encouraged us that we shall overcome; Woody Guthrie insisted that this land was made for you and me; Marvin Gaye, believed that love can conquer hate and John Lennon asked us to give peace a chance. Bob Dylan always insisted that “Blowin’ in the Wind” was not a protest song, but he had borrowed the tune from a negro spiritual (surely the most significant of all the songs of protest) and so it was already invested with 200 years of liberation history before he took his guitar and strummed out those first chords. 1963; it became the anthem of a generation of anti-war protesters.

These voices wanted equality, basic human rights, fair pay and an end to war. But what are we, the church, God’s people, protesting against? What are we asking for when we sing?

In the beginning God created a universe and he did it with thought and purpose. The world we live in was never a random collection of chance happenings, it originated in the heart of God. It originated in an intimate relationship of Father, Son and Spirit, three persons and all that love, but no created time or space where it could be. Our creation blossomed out of his desire to love and to make his love known. Before anything existed, God envisaged a universe that would be fit to fill, over and over again, with multiplying expressions of himself. Every atom of our created world was born out of this willingness. God pouring himself into creation, one small piece at a time.
And humankind were made to be the high point, the pinnacle of all that God had made. More than anything else made by God, we were created to be like him. There is something about our nature, our potential, our very presence that is similar to God, we are always expressing God, always on the cusp of being more like him and then more like him again.

So this is what we protest: a world that is less than this, less in its love and less in its beauty. Less than obviously full of glory. And we do it from a position of strength. Jesus Christ came into the world, the perfect expression of God’s intent and our ‘not yet’ flowed seamlessly into a wonderful ‘now’, where the Son of God, has conquered sin and death and brought us resurrection life. We are the ones called to be like him, to fill the world with his glory. And we can.

When we arrive at the bridge in our song, passion increases with volume, and the worship leader strums all the harder.  We were the children of Israel sent to perish in the desert with pharaoh hot on our heels, but as we sing the deep waters of the sea open up before us and we walk right through it. If the first chorus was our rallying cry our anthem is now more sure.

No longer a slave to fear

I am a child of God.

Our protest song.

 

Nearer than you think

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Yesterday God met us in our gathering together and it was good.

Another Sunday morning meetings of the saints, whose voices swelled with prayer and praise. His presence hovered in the greeting of friends and strangers, young and old. The happy comradeship of pews filling up and news being shared from the week just gone. We promised to pray for one another in the week to come and when the first chords sounded we stood side by side and raise grateful voices to Jesus our King.

God was kind to us in the preaching of the word and we came away from the prayer line strong and full of brightness and faith. We made confession with our lips in the reading of the word, the mouthing of prayers and our hearts were stirred as heaviness slipped away and all was well with the world.

Today we will know his presence in a sink full of dirty dishes and in the loading of the washing machine. We will thank Him for his goodness to us as we butter bread for sandwiches, peel vegetables, defrost the fridge. We will find him in the awkward words of a troublesome colleague or a shameful inbox of waiting mail. Unexpected bills will drop through the letter box, people will let us down. We will persevere through the to-do list and wrestle out some time at the end of the day to read or watch TV.

We are the people seeking to bring the loveliness of God into the everyday messes of our Monday morning worlds. What seemed so hopeful on Sunday can quickly fade by Monday but, one need not cry out very loudly; he is nearer than you think …

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

This is a personal walking out of heaven on earth, a kingdom-come life bringing universal notions of the presence of God into the small minutes, hours and days of our unsteady lives. For our God is an inclusive and reckless socialist, he demands that the blessings of heaven should be shared equally amongst us all; right here, right now.

If it doesn’t work on Monday morning as the sun rises on another ordinary day – then it doesn’t work at all.