A Letter to My Sons About Women

1/28/16


My boys,

Right now you are tiny.  A girl is just another person to you, another friend to play with on the playground.  You have neither hyperactive hormones nor societal biases through which to view females.  But one day you will be faced with both those things, and I deeply hope that your father and I will have prepared you well when the time comes. 

First, I hope that you know that women are your equals.  I hope you believe with ever fiber of conviction within you that women deserve equal pay and opportunity in the workforce and equal respect and authority in the home.  I pray that you never even subconsciously use your position of privilege as a male to succeed at the expense of a woman.

 I want you boys to know that our society has a perverted understanding of gender.  “Femaleness” does not equal physical fragility or a passion for cooking any more than “maleness” equals brute strength or enjoying hunting.  We are fascinatingly complex creatures, us humans, and I dearly hope that you boys won’t put yourselves or anyone else inside a box that suffocates.  Women differ in talents, strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and genetic makeup. There is no single definition of what it is to be a woman, and I hope you live as advocates for women to live fully as who they truly are.

Whether you ever marry or not, I hope that you value your relationships with women.  I hope that you read female authors, listen to female speakers, and consider thoughtfully the arguments of female friends.  I hope you marvel at the female body, not simply because it’s beautiful, but because it is fascinating.  I hope you are intrigued that they are in rhythm with the moon, that they carry and sustain life, that they nourish a newborn completely independently.  I hope that you have so much respect for this that you would never try to separate a woman from her fertility, for it is part of her very essence.

There may come a day when your body is overrun with signals that the girl standing (or in a photograph) before you was created solely for your pleasure.  I want you to know in that moment that there is no cause to be ashamed of your biology, but that you do have the power to stop yourself from believing that lie.  I hope you understand that your bodies are inexplicably tied to your souls, and so is that girl’s.  You simply cannot try to remove body from soul without doing deep, deep damage to both yourself and her.  I hope you remind yourselves that every girl you see is a whole person who deserves every human dignity she was created with. 

There also may come a day when you promise to love and serve one woman for the rest of your life, and she you.  My hope is that through that physical union of body and soul, you will learn to love and be loved beyond your wildest dreams.  I hope that you feel completely safe and known before her, and that she feels the same with you.  I hope that your sexual relationship gets better with time, as it’s meant to.  I hope that your marriage bed will be a safe harbor where you can find shelter from the storms of the world outside. 

If you do marry, I hope you’ll remember your own father scrubbing toilets and washing dishes.  I hope you will desire to share household labor with your wife, since you will be sharing the household with her.  I hope you’ll be brave to defy gender stereotypes, and I hope you’ll have fun doing it.

I am so proud of you boys.  I can’t wait to see you as men.

Love,

Mama


*this piece first appeared at I Believe in Love on October 24, 2015

11 Picture Books That Celebrate Multiculturalism

1/25/16


One awesome benefit of starting our family through international adoption was the way it so naturally moved us towards intentionality in filling our home with non-white representation.  Although our country is becoming increasingly more colorful and flavorful, there is no doubt that the boom in diversity (and the acknowledgement of the importance of it) is slow to trickle down in actual products and advertisements.  Most of what we see is still an overrepresentation of Caucasians, which is part of what it means to have white privilege.  It's not hard to find toys, pictures, or even role models who look like us and like the family we grew up in.  I think it's fair to say that most white people subconciously give our children mostly white faces in the form of dolls, toys, and media.  It's very normal to gravitate towards that which is most familiar and it doesn't make us inherently racist; it's just part of being a human.

Yet I think most parents would say that we want our children to feel comfortable with, show respect to, and interact well with people of other races and cultural backgrounds.  Many of us are well aware of just how short we fall in some of those areas, and we want more for our children.  One simple way of doing this is intentionally keeping multiculturalism in mind when we bring toys, dolls, books, and cartoons into our home.  It's actually an easy task these days, but it requires an extra step of mindfulness than what we might normally be prone to.

In our family we consume books like bread, so it's the genre I'm most qualified to offer recommendations on.  Here is a list of picture books for toddlers to lower elementary aged kids that we have found helpful for growing in the education on and appreciation of other beautiful cultures.  I hope you and the kids in your life enjoy!













I See the Sun in Afghanistan by Dedie King
(Look for other countries featured in the "I See the Sun in..." series as well)


(Keats has several books featuring urban African American life, this just happens to be my kids' favorite.)






This is just barely scraping the tip of iceberg.  I know I've left some good ones out, either because they've slipped my mind or because we haven't found them yet!  If you have some favsies of your own that you don't see here, leave the titles in the comment box for us and others to enjoy!

(Last year I rounded up some more favorite children's books in this post.  I also have a Pinterest board devoted to children's lit if you're interested in that!)


*as usual, book links are Amazon affiliates

Malnourished

1/21/16


This morning I pulled The Long Loneliness off the bookshelf and curled up on the couch without really knowing why.  I'm in the middle of a couple other books and I'm not usually a tandem reading kinda girl.  But this was a morning that called out for Dorothy Day, and who am I to throw the universe out of whack with an act of brazen rebellion?  I complied with the dawn.


Wool blanket over my knees and a baby with the hiccups in my uterus, I skipped two-thirds of the pages and got right to the part I was looking for.  There have been holes in my heart these long months here and I knew I couldn't fill them in a single morning but even just to have the Light touch them for a moment, that would be something.  I read like I was eating, or breathing... pulling the words in, the Spirit in, hungry and wanting.  I sought her companionship like a trusted old friend, and I nodded along as she told me of her love for the Catholic Church and yet of its foreignness too.

{We're not really church people, Dorothy and me.  We've got too much unidentifiable junk under our fingernails.  Is that dirt or is that avocado?  Who even knows?  But she kept showing up anyway, so I know I can do the same.}

She introduced me to Peter Maurin and I sobbed through her words.

"Seeing Christ in others... Greater still, having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him.  Blessed is he that believes without seeing."

How I've missed that kind of talk.
Help us,  I begged them.  Help us.

They're long dead and gone but I know they heard because I felt them in the room with me.  Like at the end of Harry Potter, or that one time maybe it happened to you with your grandma?  The veil is so thin, really.

//

I don't know how to actively love my neighbor here, where the winter wind keeps everyone behind closed doors and as I parent one child who panics to socialize.  I'm lonely- so lonely- yet it's a loneliness that cannot be satiated by the healthy hearts that beat next to me at church, as much as I love them and am thankful for them.  I remain malnourished until I'm with the sick.  

I'm terrified of watching life go by, knowing it wasn't the life I believed in.  But patience in timing has never been my strength and I forget to let the earth's seasons remind me of a greater rhythm.  I need the snow awhile longer.  I need it here to remind me to wait, even if I don't know what I'm waiting for.


Lori Harris is kicking off this beautiful One Thing, Right Now linkup, encouraging readers to share one thing they are doing to love their neighbor in the present.  As you can see, I have no idea what I'm doing.  But writing this post somehow felt like a start.



*book link is affiliate 

Old Man Winter, He Calls

1/14/16


Today it's almost 35 degrees outside and I feel like dancing a jig.  After a week of under 20, and at times under 0, 35 might as well be springtime.  I've always been the kind of person who needs a sweater anytime the sun ain't blazing down, so my relatively undramatic acceptance of this new normal is surprising everyone.

It might all be thanks to the gazillion dollar winter coat I'm living in.  Or the fleece lined leggings that I wear erry day... then sleep in at night... then wear again the next day.  (Sometimes I take them off to change undies.)  Or the wool socks that I double up on.

In case you can't tell, I have discovered the secret to thriving in winter in places that actually have a winter and that secret is the right equipment.  Yes there are those Iowans that are still wearing shorts, but I mostly just ignore them.



There's been snow on the ground here for weeks, cement groaning under the weight of it, and sometimes it's inconvenient, it's true.  But it's a whole lot prettier than brown grass and this Texan won't let herself forget it.

There is a quiet that comes with the snow and, thank God, lingers long after it stops falling and starts sticking.  Our to-do lists, our productivity, our expectations of ourselves and each other, they all seem to get stuck in the ice winding through the sidewalk cracks.  The world turns just a little slower in an Iowan January, and I'm holing up under a crocheted blanket to settle in to the new rhythm on the axis.



A dear friend confided early this week that her lifelong battle with an eating disorder is now requiring drastic measures for treatment.  She is weary, so very tired from the fight.  She grasps at the allusion of hope, struggling to believe that it's not a mirage in the desert.  I think to myself how I can't imagine having to suffer so much for so long.  I sip tea and I sit by the frosted window and I look at her name scrawled on the fridge, and I watch the rabbits hop through the snow.  All that snow.

Another dear friend called yesterday, marriage on the rocks on top of everything else.  Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it's numb, but it's never what she always thought it would be.  I listen to her cry and she swears that's something, but it sure feels like nothing.  The snow falls and my husband shovels the sidewalk and I cover the garlic buds in the window box.  I think about Narnia.  Always winter, never Christmas.

I'm at a coffee shop and my husband just left, waiting to catch the bus on the ice because I was too selfish to interrupt my free morning.  He's down today.  Sometimes it happens, when the atmosphere gets too full.  But Moses is at a friend's house and I don't want to talk.  I just want to write and be silent and eat a bagel for cryin' out loud.  And I let him walk away, the weight of my absence layered on top of those drooping shoulders I love.



If the snow could just keep coming down.  If it would only barricade us in, with cans of soup and all the blankets and nothing but time.  If only the roads would ice over across the country and we had to sit knee to knee in front of fireplaces popping, and say it all.  Speak everything we need to exhale, finally listen when the ones we love move their mouths.  If only we'd watch the flakes fall huge out the window and we'd keep our damn mouths shut for each other.

This is the gift winter offers us, and I'm starting to understand.


The Gifts We Didn't Ask For

1/11/16


Last Thursday morning found me shirt-up in the ultrasound chair, oohing and aahing over every adorable hand placement; Eric marveling right beside me.  Finally the moment of truth came:

It's a boy!

A boy.

Our third boy.  

It took about 24 hours of letting myself go through an uncomfortable and undesirable emotional process before I was able to truly rejoice over the news.  Even writing that sentence, I was tempted to begin it with, "I'm sorry to say".  But the truth is, I'm not sorry.  I am a human being with very real feelings and emotional experiences, and I refuse to believe any spiritual principle that says the repression or denial of those things is more beneficial to my baby than is the working through them in honesty.

So, shoving back old memories of being told that disappointment in gender could lead to a spirit of rejection in my child, I chose instead to remind myself of what I believe now:  that I want to be a whole person, that God wants me to be a whole person, that this child needs me to be a whole person, and that whole people allow themselves to work through their feelings.  

Peace came, of course it did, as I knew it would.  And I can now honestly say I'm getting excited about the very loud, very chaotic mental image that the prospect of life with three boys elicits.  I've already taken to calling them my wolf pack, and I imagine the phrase might stick.

As I waded through my puddle of emotions all day long, the words that kept running through my mind were, 

"we don't get to choose the gifts we're given".  

Sometimes it's like pulling teeth, trying to hear God's voice.  And sometimes it is so, so easy.

We don't get to choose the gifts we're given, any more than we get to choose our sufferings.  If we were given that power, we would never willingly choose the things that would truly change us, humble us, humanize us.  

Just as with suffering, we look at the gifts of others and we project ourselves onto their position.  Life must be so easy for them, having everything I want.  They don't even know how good they have it. Their burdens would be so much easier for me to shoulder than my own.  Their gifts are more desirable.

They have a girl and I don't.
       We wanted a boy with all our hearts.
I would give anything to have another child.
       I could have finally done xyz had I not gotten pregnant.
They are rich and never have to worry about how to pay the bills.
       I would give my bank account away if we could just have the marriage they have.
I can't handle my mother in law living with us.
       What I wouldn't give to have family close by.
Leaders get all of the accolades; I'm not a leader, so my contributions are ignored.
       Leadership is going to kill me. I wish I were wired differently.

On and on and on we go, round and round like an insane amusement park ride.  It's going to break down any second and the carni looks suspiciously like the guy from that one Wanted Ad, but we keep getting back on for more anyway.


It's not the things we plan or the gifts we ask for that turn out to be the most beautiful- it's the ones we didn't ask for.  If motherhood has taught me anything so far, it has been that.  And so, gladly, I open my hands and stretch out my heart for this little boy inside of me.  With eager arms and loving song I will prepare the way for him.  I will bid him come, come with the will of the Father in heaven, and be the good gift that he is destined to be.  I await you, little one, ready and willing to accept the gift I didn't ask for.  The one I know I need.

What I'm Reading - Winter '16

1/5/16

I do these seasonal installments mostly to keep myself accountable to read what I say I'm going to read.  That strategy wasn't so successful for me in the fall, but we'll try it again and see how I do... This time around I thought to include the lengthier books I'm reading with Alyosha too!

Just Finished Reading



This book had me hooked at the beginning.  The kind of hook where you walk a half a mile home from the library with your nose buried in it.  It lost it's flavor for me after awhile, but all in all a quick read and not bad.  (I particularly found it interesting to learn of the cultural temperature regarding people with Down Syndrome and similar special needs in the not too distant past.)





This was my latest read-aloud with Alyosha, and he enjoyed it.  As one familiar with both the classic movie as well as the newer Saving Mr. Banks, I was pretty disappointed after completing the original work. Funny how cultural phenomena can become larger than life (and really, larger than themselves).

Currently Reading





I've read and loved one of Berry's works before and picked up this one to follow along with the reading group at Liturgy of Life.  I've been hacking away at it for months: it's a dense, thought-provoking read that you can't whiz through... but probably my favorite read of the year.  I am utterly fascinated by the potential for restoration and justice that his ideas suggest.  Loved it so much I gave it to my dad for Christmas, so be sure that I recommend it to you as well!



Easy to read and highly relatable, yet with lots of nuggets of truth and wisdom packed in.  I think it'd be especially appealing to a first time mom in the throes of that crazy ol' life change.




Eric and I are all, "snoooooooze" but Alyosha's all, "whoooooaaaa!"  In my opinion though, there is a fine line between an abridged version and a mutilated version, and Great Illustrated Classics toes that line.


Will Be Reading




We're starting this one soon at the Liturgy of Life reading group, and would love to have you join us! We have a loose reading schedule that we try to somewhat stick to and usually use the Facebook page to engage in conversation about what we've read.  I really appreciated last year how much I read that was out of my norm or that I just wouldn't have picked up otherwise.



Because a Little Free Library one block over had it.  And I loved the play!





This is next on the Alyosha read-aloud list.  I loved this one as a kid and Dahl is probably his favorite author, so it should be a fun read for both of us!

* * *

What about you?  What's on your list for the next few months?

Shannon

*Amazon links are affiliates
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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

DESIGNED BY ECLAIR DESIGNS