What I'm Reading - Spring 2016

3/28/16

Ah, I love a good season-change and spring might be the most welcome of them all.  Time for another seasonal reading round-up!

Just Finished Reading



Unsurprisingly, this was a beautiful and articulate book.  When I mentioned on Instagram that I was starting it, I had a few friends who have lost close family members confirm that reading it felt like reading their own words.  I've never lost anyone close to me besides aged and sick grandparents, and I felt this book gave me more clarity and understanding of what that kind of grief feels like.  So hopefully that means it's made me the tiniest bit better equipped to be a comfort to others in their time of need.




Hang on for a sec while I blow my nose and wipe up the mascara that's running down my face...  For real though, this book really is that good.  Father Boyle is the humanity advocate that I could only hope one day to be.  He tells us about the miraculous transformations he sees happen all the time when people who have lived their whole lives as unloved and unworthy suddenly are given mirrors that show them otherwise.  His stories are inspiring without being showy, and they are tempered with the tales of tragedy and loss that prove he has earned the right to talk.  Phenomenal book.




I mentioned in the winter installment that I had just started this book, but I had to bring it back up here because I finished it and loved it so much!  This might be the only parenting book I would ever recommend to anyone.  Rather than offering prescriptions for child-rearing, Karen Maezen Miller invites you to live fully present and embrace the beautiful opportunity for mindfulness that the slow, mundane life of parenting offers.  I just can't recommend this one enough to moms of young children, and I think highly involved dads would get a lot out of it as well.



Currently Reading



I've never read a book quite like this one, and I love it for that.  Author Christie Purifoy is also a fellow blogger and one of my favorites to follow on Instagram.  She's a gifted wordsmith, especially in articulating the profundity of everyday life and the human condition.  This book is chronological and she invites us in to a seasonal journey that includes depression, hope, loneliness, contentment, and rhythm.  Far from being a page-turner, this is a book to take in slowly, to chew on chapter by chapter, and one that inspires the reader to live a slower, more studied life.



This book, you guys.  It's killing me and it's blowing my paradigms and it's doing it on purpose.  This is some of the best consistent writing I've ever had the pleasure of taking in.  But it is so slow.  So.  Slow.  I'm having a hard time getting through it and in fact our book club is meeting to discuss it this Wednesday and I'm only halfway through.  I told Eric the other day that I can't remember ever in all my life finding a book so breathtakingly lovely and yet struggling to get through it at the same time.   But I can't stop because a) the absolute art of her writing and b) I know something's going to happen here in a bit.  The reading of it has been great discipline for my modern, instant-gratification brain.



This one was recommended to me by my priest, partly because he knows I dig St. Therese and partly because he thought I'd appreciate the author's worldview.  It's a good book but I was hoping it would be more about the author's own life and perspective and less about the saint's life, since I've already read Story of a Soul.  But when Heather King writes about humanity, searching, and belonging it's so good I want to shake the book and yell, "tell me more, Heather!".  As it is I might not finish this one, but would recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with the life of St. Therese, as it's more accessible than her biography.

About to Start



I'll be reading this one along with the Liturgy of Life book club, but I'm a bit behind because I haven't started yet.  So it's not too late if you want to jump in!  This one has been on my list for awhile, what with my interest in faith and human suffering, so I was thrilled when Erica selected it for our group.  I've heard it's a must-read on the topic.






This is really a devotional/study guide but I thought I'd share it here since some of you might be interested!  Colleen C. Mitchell is another blogger I adore: talented writer, social justice advocate, and missionary to indigenous mothers of Costa Rica.  This devotional takes us from Easter to Pentecost and I can't wait to sink my teeth into it.  I've floundered with formal devotionals over the years, sometimes clinging to them and sometimes running from them, but in this season of life I'm finding the slightly raised bar of structure and guidance really important for me spiritually.  You can also get this as an ebook, which is what I did, by clicking through the ad on my sidebar.  That's an affilliate link, so thanks in advance!

With the Littles





We just finished reading Matilda and Fantastic Mr. Fox to Alyosha.  As a 6 year old boy, he loves Roald Dahl and we've read almost all of his works now.  Eric isn't too keen on Dahl because of the atrociously unsavory characters.  But I think it's good for kids to sometimes see inconsiderate, selfish, and hateful behavior depicted clearly as what it is: undesirable and unrewarding. And since I'm the one making the library trips, we read Roald Dahl.  ;)



But we're going to up our culture ante a bit and start The Chronicles of Narnia next, beginning with The Magician's Nephew.  I've been itching to start this series with Aly ever since he became our son, but have been waiting until he's old enough to understand them for the most part.  I'm hoping now is the time, but we shall see!



Obviously we go through dozens of picture books a month (or week?) with Moses, but every once in awhile a new one sticks out.  Symphony City was a little treasure Eric found at the library and we all love it.  Simple, poetic writing and innovative illustrations.  This is our top picture book pick this season!

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As always, I'm an eager beaver to hear what book you've got your nose in lately.  Let me know in the combox or the FB thread, por favor!

*Amazon links are affiliates.  



Ordinary

3/16/16


Today the kids and I will hang lime green streamers around the house, remnants of a Ninja Turtle party last month that- with a little luck- will declare our love and adoration in this one.  Today the love of our lives turns 34 and we sang to him this morning, off key and beautiful, all snuggled in the king sized bed with wonky hair and bad breath, Moses joining in about 90 seconds too late.

This is ordinary family, when the days tick by all subtle and stealthy and Lent looks suspiciously like Ordinary Time.

I nestled in to that familiar space on his chest, the one my head has near daily found for 10 years, standing in the kitchen and stirring his oatmeal.  It was the instant kind, not much of a birthday breakfast, but I had planned to eat it myself so that must count for something.  I let my heart feel its love for him, running back upstairs to grab that striped sweater before darting out to catch the bus on the corner.

This is ordinary marriage, when the mountains lay flat and the valleys rise level and Easter looks suspiciously like Ordinary Time.


//

When we wed I was still a mystery to him, and oh how I liked it that way.  Feeling allusive (always somewhat unattainable) I stood straight beside him, sure, but we both knew I pulled more weight on the scale.  There's something right about a man's knees going weak for love of a woman.  But it's not meant to be forever.  And now, a decade in, there is nothing of my imperfection he has not seen.

There was a time when husbands awaited the birth of their child in the hallway, nervously fingering cigars that waited to be opened.  They didn't need to see it, people thought.  Maybe the wife wanted to retain the illusion that she was a precious thing.  Maybe she didn't want to give up her last slice of mystery.  I can't say that I don't understand.

But he's seen my body, bloated and full, red and screaming, push something he created into light.  He cut the bloody cord, he kissed my sweaty forehead, and he will never unsee what he witnessed that night.  The breathtaking glory and the intensely ugly, intertwined forever in his brain's limbic system.  I have nothing this man hasn't seen.

And long before he gave testament to my body ripped open, he watched it happen to my heart.  He tugged me out of the house when depression wanted me in it, when I didn't want to go out in the world if my child couldn't leave an orphanage.  Then we brought that baby home and he saw me break: every capability that we both thought I had, shattered and sharp on the floor of that apartment.  Mystery peeled back; only I, exposed.

He's seen me on the floor after a panic attack, two kids safely strapped in car seats 8 feet away.  He's wrapped his arms around my desperate body, hearing me confess that I can't do this and not telling me I'm wrong, not telling me how to feel.  Just the holding.  Always the holding.

//

There are days that are woven in our memories, days that put heavy thumbs to our clay and mold clear form to our being.  Today will not likely be one of them. Today will be another birthday, sweet and sincere but utterly forgettable: pitchy singing, tacky streamers, instant oatmeal, and maybe a cupcake or two.  It's not changing the world; it's too ordinary.

But the ordinary is what is changing me, and the ordinary is what is changing him, and the ordinary is what is weaving a marriage that will last 'til death do us part.  Love is not something that we found and decided to marry upon; love is what we choose as we stack these ordinary days, one atop the next.

Today is his birthday and we are a family and we belong to each other.  We belong to each other.




(photos by our friend Emily Curran at the boys' baptism in 2014)

Why I'm Not "Training" My Children: A Plea for the Ending of Obedience-Based Christian Parenting

3/10/16


I sat on the carpeted floor of our little apartment, legs sprawled around board books and plastic instruments, and looked my 18 month square in the eye.

"No throwing." My voice was as firm as the swat to his calf.

We had been going back and forth like a tennis match, neither of us willing to concede the grim game. When my husband and I had adopted him 7 months prior, we had already been carefully groomed for years by our local church to be the perfect parents. From the moment we said our vows we had been inundated with messages on the importance of feeding schedules, sleep training, and above all else, "first time obedience".  I had been taught (by lovely, healthy older families) that training my child to obey me immediately would result in him growing up to obey God unwaveringly.

My formidable toddler picked up a toy guitar almost half his size and threw it at my head, brazenly daring me to keep trying to raise him "God's way".

Nearly one year later I was seated at a missions conference where there was, predictably, a breakout session on parenting. A first time toddler-mom my own age raised her hand and half cautiously, half desperately pleaded for advice from the panel. "If I spank him for every single infraction, I will nearly be spanking him all day long." Yes, the panel agreed, yes with some children for some seasons it will feel that way. But if you're faithful to teach him first-time obedience, he will flourish eventually.

I thought of my own child, now well over the age of two, who wasn't showing any signs of flourishing. In fact for each day that went on my gut got louder and louder that something was wrong, that he was trying to tell me something I couldn't hear.


And of course I couldn't hear: I wasn't even trying to listen.  All of my parenting intuition had been shoved aside to make room for All The Right Ways That Would Guarantee A God-Fearing Child.  And it wasn't just my local church who was voicing it; everywhere I turned I ran into James Dobson and his three dozen parenting books, or Michael and Debi Pearl and their penchant for unnecessary extremes in discipline.  There was no room left inside my brain for interpreting the very personal signals my own individual child was trying to send me, his one and only mom.

It is not my intention to vilify anyone.  I believe everyone who offered advice did so out of a deep love for their own children and sincere desire to lead them to a loving Christ.  And I am not saying that their methods did not function appropriately within their own family.  How could I know that?  What I am saying is that it is not okay to present one parenting style as The Only Way.  In fact, not only is it not okay, it is decidedly harmful and irresponsible.

An unbalanced emphasis on obedience and performance might not have severely detrimental effects on a typically developing child who is also receiving (and has always received) a lot of nurture.  However, such parenting methods run completely at odds with the needs of an adopted or foster child whose brain does not make the same connections as that of the first child, and often operates in a state of fight or flight.  Not only will such methods make the child feel endangered and ashamed, but they will often incite undesirable behaviors as a result.  I speak from personal experience when I say this critically damages the family unit.

Another example would be families with parents who have themselves been poorly parented, under-educated, and exposed to exponentially more challenges than the white middle class pastor in the pulpit who is presenting spanking as best practice.  Such advice simply cannot be given to a congregation of 500 people.  The accountant who grew up surrounded by healthy attachments and high nurture will internalize an endorsement of spanking in a much different way than will the young father who never had a paternal figure in his life and is completely surrounded by a culture of misogyny and violence.  They both want to be great parents.  But they need drastically different guidance.  And it is completely irresponsible to claim otherwise.



Is it wrong to teach our children to obey authority figures?  Certainly not, it's quite important within the right framework.  But is it worth instilling reflexive obedience at the expense of the child feeling fully heard and known?  At the expense of special needs going undetected for years?  At the risk of a child being spanked 20 times a day?  At the risk of sexual abuse the parents never know about, because the child has been trained to unquestioningly obey grown ups?

In addition to what feels like an exorbitant amount of risk, there is also the glaring question at hand: is it really appropriate for a child to never question authority?  It is certainly more convenient for the adult if he or she complies immediately with every request, but it's hard to imagine that strengthening his critical thinking skills or her creativity over time.  I would rather feel impatient explaining the significance behind rules and requests for 18 years than raise a child who obeys them without understanding why.  I have great hope for this world, and part of that hope is preparing a generation to think outside the box for new solutions to old problems.  But I don't see how they can do that if the desire has long been snuffed out.

Furthermore, research tells us that more than anything children need secure attachments with their parents and caregivers, and they need to know they have a voice.  The Church once spearheaded scientific research.  Why does it now seem that mainstream Christianity has set herself up as the chief opponent of much of the sciences?  Have we become too proud to admit that we could learn something from a mouthpiece that is something other than explicitly Christian?  God help us.  No wonder the rest of the world sees us as arrogant, stubborn, and uninformed.

I love the Church.  I love the Catholic church and the Protestant church; I love the Church universal.  I believe that the most beautiful thing about our Church is the potential she has to represent the character of God and the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I believe the same is true for families; I believe that is part of the reason the God Man came to earth within a family unit.  In both institutions it is human-to-human encounter, the knowing of another person, that turns our hearts towards God.  In neither place is obedience for obedience's sake the highest good.  Love is always the highest good.  And love only comes from knowing.


*For clarity's sake: feeding schedules, sleep training at appropriate ages, and occasional spankings are things I believe to be subject to individual families and which can be done in healthy ways.  These are not the problems that I am referring to in this piece.  If you don't recognize the stream of thought I am addressing here, count yourself lucky and move on.*



RELATED READINGS:
Parenting in the Field
The Transforming Power of Saying "Yes" To Your Kids
And Elizabeth Esther has written extensively on this topic.  Check out her blog here.
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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)

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