Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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Dividing a Heart: Day 26 of the April Poetry Challenge

I have heard it said that if you allow a child to draw anything they wish the result will give you a view into their world. If that is true, then I am a very proud and happy Mommy today. Princess Imagination chose to draw a picture of her heart the other day, and what’s inside her heart had me tearing up.

And then, it had me writing poetry… about what the world could learn about priorities from my little girl.


 

Room In My Heart

 

The survey asks me to define,

to give a number,

to apportion value twixt the things the world tells me to love.

What is most important to you?

  1. love
  2. family
  3. education
  4. health
  5. money
  6. career
  7. power.

The question assumes a spot for each.

The only variant

is how much space I give each “what”

in the landscape of my heart.

But when my daughter draws her heart,

there is no room for “what,”

there is only room

for “who”

and “who”

is big enough for God,

and people in need,

and everyone.

 

 


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Lucky Thirteen: Day 13 of the April Poetry Challenge

I am not usually a superstitious person, and I have never been very convinced by numerology. On this thirteenth day of April, however, I am inspired by another 13, probably the most important of my life. Last August my husband and I celebrated 13 years of marriage.

It wasn’t our easiest year, but it was very important, and I learned a lot about love. So, today’s poem is my effort to share (and celebrate) those lessons.


Lucky Thirteen

 

It’s supposed to be unlucky.

Number 13…

the thirteenth floor,

the thirteenth day,

the thirteenth year.

 And in marriage, at least, this makes

So.

Much.

Sense.

Thirteen years after the wedding, the honeymoon is nearly

forgotten.

Life is full of

responsibilities and restlessness,

disagreements and distractions,

frustrations and foibles

that aren’t so endearing anymore,

Thirteen years worth of everything that pulls two souls apart.

 

But… all those reasons

are what made our thirteenth year

so lucky.

Not because we avoided all these things,

the pains and petty grievances.

Not because we proved our love exempt

from burns in the crucible of marriage.

 

But rather, because we didn’t.

 

It is so easy to become complacent,

to take for granted the presence

of a life-mate,

a companion,

a lover,

a friend;

to forget to practice daily gratitude in acts of care.

Until things start to rub,

to chafe

to scrape raw the thin veneer of passive toleration.

Until minor irritations begin to spread,

like a rash,

spreading across the skin,

the surface of daily interactions.

It is then that you realize the need for

attention.

The rash is not infected, not acute,

but if allowed to spread

it can compromise the entire body.

It requires gentle care

a soft caress,

a soothing balm on irritations,

the medicine of daily acts of love.

And in the simple things,

the ointment of paying attention,

of thinking once again

how can I put him first? her first?

you find the luck of being married

thirteen years.

Marriage isn’t magic.

And it’s not really about luck.

But…

here’s to hoping.

No!

to knowing

that the next thirteen years

will be just as “lucky”.

And the next thirteen.

And the next.

And the next.

 


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Teaching Class: Day 11 of the April Poetry Challenge

My mom arrived for a visit yesterday, and was an instant Rock Star with my kids. Someone they love who has no dishes to wash, or phone to answer, and who could not be more delighted to sit and read twenty-seven books in a row!

Now, Rock Star is not my mom’s most natural persona, but she adapted well and soaked in the love, and smiles, and hugs, and exuberant attention. Then, Princess Imagination decided that it was time to play her favorite game. The result gave me a new appreciation for ways to teach my driven little daughter.


Teaching Class

 

When she grows up, my daughter wants to be a teacher

art

or maybe math

definitely grade school.

She likes to be in control.

She’s practicing already,

but her little brother is not a very willing student.

 

Gra’ma’s arrival means a happy partner in the practice classroom,

a student for her lessons,

who doesn’t bore the mini-teacher with distracting stories,

about the real-life classrooms she once taught,

or eight full years of teaching me at home.

Gra’ma is content to play the game.

 

Out comes the Easel, and the teacher-voice.

Perhaps she chooses math because this is Gra’ma’s subject,

or perhaps because her genes run true,

and numbers captivate her own well-structure mind.

 

Unfortunately, today she over-reaches

she can’t yet calculate below the zero line.

My eavesdropping ears tilt forward,

anxious for the sounds of six-year-old frustration,

when she cannot pretend to master all.

 

But somehow, there is only laughter

and a willing switch of teachers.

Gra’ma draws a number line,

begins a clear and helpful explanation

but

Princess Imagination doesn’t really want to learn

she wants to teach again.

 

So, a new lesson now: patterns

and Gra’ma sits and listens,

answers simple questions,

gives attention to the little teacher,

and as she does, teaches an important lesson by example.

The greatest teachers

are always ready

to learn.

 


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Lion Kisses: Day 8 of the April Poetry Challenge

Yesterday was one of those sweet gifts in parenting when I had the time (took the time) to just stop and enjoy my son, letting him take the lead in play.

Such sweet inspiration…


 

Lion Kisses

 

“Roar and wrestle on the bed,

but always let me pin

you down, and Mommy, when I do

then toss me up again.”

 

A playful squeal, my cublet’s roar

collapses into giggles.

I answer back with joyful sound.

embracing his sweet wiggles.

 

A joy so pure, it nurtures me

and teaches me of love –

of sweet surrender, perfect trust

and what is born thereof.

 

A closeness that speaks not with words,

declaratives or wishes,

but rather beating heart on heart

and lion belly kisses.


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Imaginative Freedom: Day 7 of the April Poetry Challenge

Apparently the Gigglemonster inherited more from me than his brown eyes and his extreme sensitivity to tickling. He is clearly also a born story-teller. He loves to hear stories; he loves to act them out; and most of all he likes to create them out of the quirky delightfulness of his own imagination.

This penchant is most frequently displayed when the current reality does not line up with his preferences. It’s not that he is a LIAR exactly, but more than he has a complicated relationship with the truth – it is just so confining and uninspiring. Much more fun to explore the realm of possibility, where history can contain any experience his little four-year-old mind can dream up, and where his sister’s ever practical correction can’t intrude with withering assertions “that never happened!”

I can’t wait to start reading the stories he will write in a few more years…


 

Oh, To Be a Ghost Grown-up

 

“When I was a ghost grown-up…”

that’s my son’s standard introduction

to imaginative tales of things

he’s never done.

Professions he has never worked (a knight, a dentist, a mythbuster),

places he has never been (the moon, a pirate ship, Erendell),

lives he has never lived (dangerous, exciting, magical),

all breathed to life with the strong force of his boundless storytelling.

 

It is a carefully selected self that bars all contradiction.

A ghost cannot be seen,

so who can witness to its absence?

A grown up – in his 4-year-old belief – suffers no limits,

there is no one to say “No” where grown-ups have a will to do.

And so, these stories too can grow without constraint,

an outlet for a mind that yearns to live each moment to the very tip of thought.

 

I’ve heard of epic battles he has fought and won,

of ten motherless children he has raised with love and care.

(each has a name, if an unusual one).

I’ve marveled at the complicated web of tangled powers and desires that his mind evokes.

I’ve ached to see frustration in each tale of loss, of failure, or of woe.

I’ve learned to listen for the dream, the cherished hope

that needs this outlet for release.

To ponder how to keep him safe

while also giving room for dreams to grow into reality.

 

And… I have wondered.

Just what would it be like to be, myself, a “ghost grown up”?

No limits to contain my mind or will,

no drudgery of trapping practicality,

no fetters of responsibility to hold me to the one life I have chosen.

But… no reality either,

to make my life the fragile, precious, messy, beautiful mix of love and boundaries,

that grows each day,

even within constraints;

and with no dreamer boy to hold – fixed to the ground – while I listen to his wondrous tales

take flight…

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My Mother’s Kitchen Ceiling: Memories of Quiet Love

Today my mom celebrates the completion of another year. 25,933 days of life, most of which have garnered scant attention from me. I think, perhaps, that has always been one of the most generous gifts she gives me as my mother: our relationship has never been primarily about her. Mostly it has been about her giving me the care, support, resources, faith, confidence, and love to lead the best life I can live.

But, for today at least, I want to celebrate her. I want to acknowledge what she has done for me and just why she is the kind of mother and person who is worth celebrating. Happy Birthday Mom!

My Mother’s Kitchen Ceiling

*

I remember the ceiling in my mother’s kitchen

the bumpy surface of mid-century construction

random bits of plaster

shapes in silhouette

that take form in the imagination of a child.

*

My favorite shape was an oblong patch

off-balanced by a bulging side.

My mind’s eye saw there expectation,

a mother waiting for the life inside to soon burst out,

cradling love, protectively, with a sheltering arm.

*

Over the years I spent hours staring at that form,

because it looked down on the sink where my Mom washed my hair.

Lying on the counter,

my back pressed against peeling formica,

I would passively, unthinkingly, accept this act of care.

*

I didn’t like water in my eyes

*

So, Mom would clear the counter for my ever-growing body to stretch out.

She would cradle my head in one hand while testing the water’s heat on her own fingers,

and she would wash my long, thick, often tangled hair

while I stared dreamily up at the ceiling,

letting my imagination explore familiar, abstract shapes.

*

I remember so many ways she made space for my mind to explore:

books she read to me and asked me to wonder about;

projects she created for me to practice my creativity;

time she gave me to play, to learn, to explore

with the confidence that grows when a child is not constantly corrected,

told the right way,

told to follow the rules.

Of course we had rules in our house,

but only the necessary ones to keep us safe and healthy,

the rules to help us grow in care for others and our world.

Not rules to make her job of mothering easier.

*

What I don’t remember is her ever complaining about her lot in life;

how tired she was;

how she never got a break;

how her back hurt.

I don’t remember hearing any of the complaints my children echo back to me.

A witness to how much I must complain.

*

What I don’t remember is her ever interrupting my long, hard-to-follow child stories/

or her not having time to listen/

or her demanding that I wait until she was free to hear/

in painstaking detail/

about my latest discovery, or hurt, or question.

*

What I don’t remember is her distracting me with mindless activities so that she could do her own thing.

No television babysitter,

or “why don’t you go color in the other room,”

or “if you’re bored, I have a chore for you,”

just to keep me busy

so that I wouldn’t bug her as she cooked, or cleaned, or hung-up laundry.

*

What I don’t remember is her ever worrying about money –

although I know she must have done so –

in the lean years when we wore hand-me-down clothes

and got surprise gifts from “Angels Anonymous” to replaced the sagging, stained, green thrift-store couch.

She always found a way to put a full meal on the dinner table,

and if I complained about the frozen lima beans

she never heaped guilt and shame on my plate

by telling me it was all we could afford.

*

I don’t remember her complaining.

I don’t remember her being too busy for me.

I don’t remember her feeding me distractions.

I don’t remember worry.

But I remember the ceiling of my mother’s kitchen,

and I remember the space to dream.

It is a good memory.


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Fear-Rejecting Parenting: Reflections on the Courage of an Amazing Family

I think I might have been more traumatized than the Gigglemonster when he fell and smacked his head on a hard, stone floor (notice the lump!)

I might have been more traumatized than the Gigglemonster when he fell and smacked his head on a hard, stone floor (notice the lump!)

Something they never tell you about becoming a parent is all the fear that suddenly invades your life when you take that precious, miraculous, fragile little bundle home from the hospital. Watching your heart (captured in the body of your child) grow, and discover, and slowly move away from you is both breathtakingly joyful and breathtakingly frightening.

In my experience, the fears of parenting run the whole spectrum of terrifying possibilities. I am afraid of the things that could happen to my children (be that physical pain and illness, or car accidents, or rejection by friends, or failure to achieve their dreams), and I am afraid about what they will be exposed to (from societal evils like consumerism and bigotry to the very individual dangers of evil people who might try to harm them). I worry about their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. I worry about their present and about their future. Moments of intense pride in their character and accomplishments are tempered by moments of fear when their whining, or selfishness, or timidity conjure up imaginings of how these traits might hamper them as they mature.

Added to fears for my children are the fears for my own failures as their mother: failures to protect them, failures to guide and teach them, failures to give them all that they need and deserve, and failures to back away so that they can learn independence and develop their own coping strategies when life is imperfect.

My own fears are probably holding Princess Imagination back from really learning how to swim. It's so hard to trust that she can learn to be safe in water.

My own fears are probably holding Princess Imagination back from really learning how to swim. It’s so hard to trust that she can learn to be safe in water.

I don’t mean to give the impression that motherhood is an endless labyrinth of fears and forebodings. In fact, the apprehension I feel is so powerful only because the love and joy of parenting my little ones is so intense. It is because there is so much to lose, so much indescribable happiness, that my hands occasionally shake when grasped by soft, plump little fingers. My life is incalculably better because of the two invaders who so completely upturned it with their presence and their needs.

And yet, I am unavoidably aware that my relationship to fear has undergone a qualitative shift since I became a mother. Fear now has a secret entry to my heart that was never there before. When my body gave my children entry into life, with all its dangers, it also opened a door for fear to fill the empty space where they once nestled under my heart. It’s as though the intense, physical dependence that began our relationship has reprogrammed me. I will now – I think forever – know myself as the one whose responsibility it is to protect and nurture my children. What that looks like changes as they grow, but the imperative does not slacken. A central part of my very identity is the absolute obligation to seek their well-being, and for me that includes a persistent awareness of everything that threatens it.

Perhaps that is why I was so struck by the story of Heather and Cameron Von St. James when I was introduced to it a few weeks back. Eight years ago they shared the awesome experience of bringing home their baby girl and encountering the joy of discovering all the wonderful ways their lives were now changed. That part of their story is intimately and sweetly familiar to me. The fear they faced just a few months later, however, is something I struggle to even imagine. Heather was diagnosed with Mesothelioma – a virulent form of cancer that usually results in death within 2 years of diagnosis. She was given just 15 months to live.

Fifteen months! That kind of diagnosis would be devastating to anyone, but for new parents … my parenting fears pale in comparison. Such a huge element of my fear as a mother is my immense sense of responsibility – the need to protect, and love, and guide my children in all the ways they need me. But what if I faced the near certainty that I wouldn’t be there to do any of those things? I really don’t think I can imagine what it must be to face that kind of fear.

What I can do, is to share my awe-filled respect for what Heather and Cameron did with their fears: they named them, and then they rejected them. They began a unique ceremony of inviting friends and family to join them for a backyard bonfire. In the light of that fire, a symbol of danger, they write their fears on plates and then throw them into the fire. They use the destructive power of the flames to smash their fears and reclaim their lives, and in the process they embrace each day they have with each other and with their daughter, Lily.

As it turns out, those days have been more numerous than the doctors ever imagined. It has been eight years since the lung removal surgery (the “lung leavin’ day” as they have dubbed it) that is the date for the Von St. James’ annual ceremony. Heather has been at every one.

Heather’s life, and her ability to be present in her daughter’s life, is miracle enough. But this amazing family has gone a step beyond by sharing their miracle with others as an inspiration for fear-rejecting parenting. They have taken a source of unimaginable fear and changed it into a chance to embrace love instead.

WOW!

I have often been comforted by the words of the apostle John (I John 4:18) that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear,” however I have also struggled to really experience them in my life. In all the relationships that matter most to me – those where my love is the deepest – fear seems to hold the opposite relationship to love. Especially as a mother, fear seems to grow with love, not be banished by it. But here, in this inspiring example, I think I am beginning to understand a bit more about how to claim this truth in my own life.

The Von St. James’ are not without fear. They hold their fear-smashing ceremony every year, because fear is not something that can be banished once and for all. The fact that Heather has beaten the odds does not remove all the fears that come with a cancer diagnosis as a young mother. She still has fears about the cancer coming back, about missing out on her daughter’s life. And so each year she rejects those fears – rejects their power to control her life and to tarnish each day of love that she has with her daughter.

“Perfect love casts out fear.” Casting out is a willful act – a decision. By writing a fear onto a plate and then throwing it into the fire this special family, and a growing crowd of others, make the decision to reject fear’s power to rob their love of its joy and beauty.

So, this blog post is my plate today. I am writing down my fear of failing as a mother – whether through my own imperfection or my inability to control all the evil in the world that can harm my children. It’s out of my control but that does not have to tarnish the joy of loving them. Perhaps, if I learn the discipline of regularly rejecting that fear, it will even help to liberate that love.

May today and every day be a day to throw fear into the fire and instead embrace the joy I have today.

(To learn more about Heather and Cameron’s story, or to help them raise money for Mesothelioma awareness, you can visit their webpage: http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday )

Each day with them is a reason to smile!

Each day with them is a reason to smile!