A Man Misunderstood: Part I

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Suspicious. Doubtful. Annoyed at your devotion while I smile and nod my head.

Happy for you. Equally wishing I could “buy in” and yet unable to foresee a scenario in which that would ever be possible.

Curious. Incredulous. Impatient. Restless.

Tuning out the moment I hear or read the words “God”, “Faith”, “Jesus” and “Christianity”. I don’t want to be your prized missionary “save”.

And yet still, I wrestle. Blaming it on brainwashing from church as a child every Sunday but deep down, I can’t escape the curiosity.  How can so many bright and intelligent people believe in this?

They told me to read The Book but every time I try, it doesn’t make any sense.

They try to encourage me, but there’s an ocean between us and our conversations only leave me feeling more isolated and lost.

Still, I search.  I read books about Buddhism and find common ground.  I continue to watch sermons from the church I started attending a couple of years ago. The pastor, a successful lawyer, author and professor, is a master at tackling current issues using biblical scripture to make sense of it all.

I assumed some are just born to believe and others don’t take much convincing.  The task is daunting, confusing and overwhelming and yet as much as I want to stop, I keep pursuing- fueled equally by my own questions and the pressure to teach my children principles to live by.

Piece by piece, I find myself peeling back the layers.

For the past month, I’ve been reading The God Girl Journey by Hayley DiMarco.  It’s a 30-Day guide intended for teenagers, but as my faith is certainly no more advanced, it’s just right for me.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

After a 3 day introduction, the book is divided into the attributes listed in the verse above and it has changed my life. 

I’ve never wanted to call myself a Christian for a number of reasons:  I do not want to align myself with a faith whose leaders have been convicted of child molestation time and time again.  I do not want to be associated with a religion that believes their way is the only way and all others are damned to hell or not welcome in heaven.  I have issues with the damnation of homosexuals or the idea of confessing my sins.  I have issues with well-meaning missionaries converting people from other cultures under the pretense of helping.  I have issues with hypocrisy which I feel Christianity and many of its followers are grossly guilty of.  I have a hard time believing in biblical stories and I don’t want to “cherry-pick” my religion.  If I’m going to label myself something, I want to be all-in.

For these reasons, and many others I’ve skirted Christianity.  Peeking inside its chambers, but never fully entering.  Cautiously observing.

As a child, I attended an Episcopalian church, summer camps and even found myself at a Young Life retreat one year.  I clearly remember sitting on a rock, pleading with a leader to tell me how I was supposed to believe.  His answer was, “You just have to have faith.”  In what?  Blind faith? Believe first and the rest will come?  I’m not hardwired that way.

And yet I am insanely envious of those who do have faith.  I think to myself, “I wish I could be that naive”. Harsh, but true. They seem so peaceful.  In the face of some of the worst tragedies, time and time again I’ve heard or read Christians who are able to find goodness amongst evil- like when the congregation and family members of those killed at the church in Charleston publicly forgave Dyllan Roof for his senseless massacre. How? Why?

Reading The God Girl Journey has helped me to understand just how and why that could ever be possible. Reading this book has given me a much clearer understand of who Jesus was- a man that I’ve researched enough to know that few doubt his existence. Reading this book has helped me to understand why the Christians I know and respect seem so confident and peaceful and why they share their faith.

I’m still at the beginning of my journey (hence, Part I), but now I know that once you start to believe, you feel selfish keeping it to yourself.  It’s not that you are trying to convert others to check off your “good Christian to-do-to-get-into-heaven list”- it’s that you feel true JOY and you want others to feel it, too.

I have lots of questions but for the first time, I am beginning to understand why so many people love Jesus.  Strip away the rules and denominations surrounding him.  As I learn more about what he stood and died for, I see so many similarities in all that I love about Buddha- principles that I try to live my life and teach my children by: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

And as much as I want to know it all before I begin, just like parenting, I realize now that sometimes you just have to start somewhere- anywhere. I’m tired of curiously observing from the outside.  I have nothing to lose by diving in and the more I learn, the more I realize how much I have to gain.

Jesus: A man I’ve grossly misunderstood.  A man, a faith, I want to understand. A man whose birth I’m actually celebrating this Christmas.

 

Dee Akright Photography 

 

 

Romance Redefined

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Dee Akright Photography 2009

Long gone are the box of chocolates and roses.  That was a decade ago.  In its place are emptied dishwashers and trashcans.  This is now.  Romance Redefined.

I quit teaching fourth graders as soon as I had my first born, but I continued teaching, women, shortly thereafter when I became a Pure Romance Consultant.  It was a job I wasn’t looking for but that I was surprisingly successful at for the next four years.  The parties were loads of fun, but the most rewarding part of my job was getting to chat with women one-on-one about their very personal, intimate lives- things they hadn’t shared with anyone else.  These women had questions and looked to me for answers.

Many had questions about the products I was promoting but more had questions about how to keep the romance alive in their marriage.  My answer changed depending on who I was talking to.  I asked questions about the status of their relationship and the preferences of each individual.  More often than not, my recommendation was not to purchase half of the items on their wishlist, rather it was to communicate with their other half.  It was the encouragement I gave the woman to tell her partner what she wanted and to be open to reciprocation.

Often, women teased that my husband must “love” my job, assuming we had a passionate intimate life.  I didn’t want to burst their bubble, but I tried to explain that although they were certainly perks to my profession, there are also “seasons” in life.  Marriage is intended for a lifetime and with that comes the changing seasons.  So when a sleep-deprived, first-time mother looked to me with hopeful eyes of how to get the romance back, I placed my hand on hers and gave her the permission she needed to know that it didn’t have to happen immediately.  I explained, romance evolves.

So often, we cling to our previous lives.  We move cities, change jobs, or have children and suddenly, we want back what we used to have.  For romance, that may mean less post-it notes on the steering wheel, candle-lit baths, and late-night dates.  Instead, the peace of your partner’s hand resting on yours after a long day, knowing that is the same hand you to hope to be lucky enough to continue to hold for the rest of your life.  It’s when your wife or your husband rubs your shoulders unexpectedly because they know you could use a little TLC after a long day.

And although the time between passionate moments lengthens over the years, the fire still burns; a reminder of how it all began.  It’s not how it was.  It never will be because now is not then.  As we grow and change, so does the romance. It’s still there, it’s just redefined.

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Camille Vaughan Photography 2016

‘Tis the Season

Pine straw.

That’s all it took to absorb our 20 month-old daughter’s attention for one whole hour.

We had a house full of the newest, brightest and loudest toys that occupied Aurora for a few minutes a piece, and yet here was my mother-in-law on our back porch, helping her slide pine straw through the cracks of our deck.

My husband and I watched from the window in disbelief and almost irritation.  How could it be so simple?

The holidays are here and with it, the catalogs in the mail and the ads on the internet and tv. “Hurry, before it’s too late!” they warn.  “Limited Edition”, “Hot Toys”, “Sale Ends Soon!”.

Buy, Buy, Buy.  More, More. More.

Some people are even going so far as to buy out entire stocks of a store, only to turn around weeks later and sell them at a profit to desperate parents.

Is this really what this season is about?

We are certainly pressured into thinking so.

We are programmed to believe we must have this item for our loved one to be happy.

Pardon me, but what a load of crap!

Ask a survivor of a terrible house fire, and they will tell you that if their family and pets survived, then, aside from heirlooms and keepsake memories, they feel “lucky”.

Ask someone on their deathbed what they would wish for if they could have anything at all.

The answer would be time.

Not the flashy gadget inside the house, instead, the time it takes to slowly weave pine straw through the cracks.

The personal connection, the conversation, the one thing that we we cannot store- time.

‘Tis the season of giving.

As you find yourself sucked into the rush of the holidays, take a moment to slow down and recognize that so long as we have those we cherish, we already have enough.

And when you go to the store and find that “hot item” sold out, replace it with the gift that cannot be bought or sold- time, spent with you.

 

 

Decision Time

To add or not to add, that was the question. Barstools that is.

We were remodeling our kitchen and stuck on whether to make an “L” shape for a fourth seat at our island.

That week, we also had been heavily discussing having a fourth baby.

“I’m worried it might be too crowded.”  He said.

“I’m worried we will wish we had added it later.  The time to decide is now.”  I said.

“Are we still talking about bar stools here?”

We had made lists- reasons to and not to have another child.

We’d been unable to let go of the baby stuff, but not yet ready to commit to another.

We’d had many late night conversations about it and then decided to give it some more time.

And now here we were, talking about bar stools, but not really.

We cut cardboard boxes into both the “L” shape and “space for 3” shape and placed it on top of the island cabinets.

The “L” looked daunting, but when my husband stood by that facade, he announced, “Yea.  This feels right.”

I looked him in the eye, smiled knowingly, and nodded my head “yes”.

Let’s add that fourth seat.  Let’s try for that fourth baby.

It feels right.

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Watkins Photography

 

Custom Creation

I am not a crafty person but desperate times call for desperate measures and that is precisely where I found myself this past week, scouring the internet for charts- Morning Routines, Bedtime Routines, Chores, Allowance and Behavior were the topics I was interested in; however I could not find a system that incorporated it all.  So I made my own.

My eldest is 5 1/2 now (don’t you ever forget that 1/2), and is highly interested in earning money.  I want to teach her how to earn money by working and yet I don’t want the EXTRA WORK of managing it.  I would also like a way to remember the nine steps we do every morning before school, but want her to be accountable for following them.  Finally, I want her to recognize that she can lose her money by being disrespectful- impatience, talking back, etc.

Introducing The New Leaf Parenting Accountability System.  It includes the following: Continue reading

Day Off

It’s 5 P.M. and I have decided I’m taking the day off, today.  Between the Kindergartener crying before school, the toddler’s epic battle at nap time and the almost 4 year-old locking us all out of the bathroom, I’m declaring myself done for the day.

My patience level is at a negative zero and I’m tired of expecting myself to somehow dig out another ounce.  Today, I just want to go back to being me before children.  It’s impossible I know, and not something I’m going to want once I see them all sleeping peacefully on the baby monitor later, but right now, I just want to pretend that I don’t have to always think about my actions all of the time.

I don’t want to set any more examples today of how to keep your cool when you really want to blow your lid.  I don’t want to care about many bites of healthy food they eat, how much screen time they are getting, or the size of their poop in the potty.

I’m dreaming of binge-watching my favorite TV shows, of long, uninterrupted phone conversations, and eating junk food without having to hide it.  I’m going to imagine myself sleeping until it gets boring, reading until I get a headache, and shopping in a speciality boutique store just because I can.

Tomorrow, I’ll grab my coffee and get back on the parent horse- making sure my kids eat their protein for breakfast, clean up after themselves, and behave like good citizens.  But today, I’m giving myself a break.  I’ll go through the motions tonight to feed them and get them to bed, but if all hell breaks loose, I. don’t. care. because. I’m. done. today.  Join Me!

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Pre-Baby Days

My Children, My Teachers

“Honour thy father and thy mother.” One of the 10 Commandments. Most of us were raised to regard our parents as our superiors.  “Because I said so” is an oh-so familiar phrase in most households. We consider our children OURS. They belong to us. It is our job to guide them.

But what if we, instead, regard our children as our teachers?

I’ve been reading a great deal of parenting books this summer: The Conscious Parent and The Awakened Family both by Dr. Shefali, The Whole Brain Child by Drs. Siegel and Bryson are just a few. Very honestly, I typically feel resistant to pick them up and read them. I fight a feeling of eye-rolling, as if to say “Don’t I do enough, already? I hardly have time to read as it is, do I really want to spend my time thinking more about my children?” And yet, I am left with a sense of clarity after every page. A tiny shift in perspective that feels like a fresh breath of air.

Instead of only focusing on the wisdom we have to bestow on our offspring, what if we opened our heart to the lessons they are teaching us every day? For instance, patience. Slowing down so they can keep up when we walk, slowing down our speech so they can understand, slowing down our schedules so that we have time to marvel at their magnificence. Slowing down when we rush them to get their shoes, jackets and seatbelt on. Witnessing them learn. Viewing the wonder of the world from their eyes.

Or how about our capacity to love? Our hearts have never experienced a love this fierce. We love them so much that when they disappoint us we feel it personally within our own hearts, as if it is a reflection of us. Perhaps it is. Perhaps rather than focusing our anger on them, we could open our hearts to the lesson it has taught us on how to be a better parent. Perhaps we could learn to love ourselves as much as we love them.

Forgiveness. Murderers have parents who still love them, in spite of their evildoings. Maybe we can learn to forgive others or even ourselves with the grace we give our own children.

When we start to witness our children as our teachers, we release the pressure of parenting perfectly. We wait, we watch, we consider and we enjoy.  We grow as they grow and love them not only for who they are, but also for all they have taught us.

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The Choice is Yours

School is fast approaching and as a result, so is my child’s anxiety. Fortunately, I’ve been reading The Whole Brain Child by Drs. Siegl and Bryson this summer and have become familiar with the concept of “Mindsight” which they define as ” . . . understanding our own mind as well as understanding the mind of another.”¹ I have also learned about “The Wheel of Awareness” and have adapted it to work for my young daughter, who is entering Kindergarten.

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My daughter has attended two years of pre-k at the same school so it isn’t as if this is totally new territory.

I began our activity by asking her to describe what she loves about school and drew illustrations in the center (I’m no artist).  She loves drawing, playing with friends, toys and playing on the playground.  She loves celebrating the holidays.

I then drew four paths to school and asked her to explain how she feels about going to school. We came up with “Happy, Sad, Curious, and Scared” and placed them in the color path of her choice. After discussing each path, I had her point to the one she would like to take to school, which, of course, was “Happy”.

I explained that sometimes we feel sad and miss mommy and walk along that trail and that it is ok to feel this way, but that after a short while, doesn’t it feel better to move on over to the “Happy” path? She smiled in recognition.

Fill the center. Every day we choose a path. Sometimes we get trapped on the broken one, but after while we do ourselves a service when we refocus our mind to the good, the positive, the things to look forward to once we reach our destination.

Siegel, Daniel J., & Bryson, Tina Payne. The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. New York: Random House. 

 

Nourish

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Camille Vaughan Photography

Songwriters often say they write their greatest music after a heartbreak.  Athletes play their best game after a significant loss.  In the midst of tragedy, artists and writers create their masterpieces.  It’s almost as if we need conflict to have depth and gain insight.

I wrote a lot last year.  I was surviving.  Consumed by my parental responsibilities, struggling to find my identity.

I was so focused on how much I felt my kids were draining me, that I neglected to recognize how much they have nourished my soul.

It’s hard to have perspective when you are physically exhausted, overwhelmed, and consumed.

But my heart has never known a love like this.  Without them, I never would have known its depths.  And I never would have understood God’s love for me as well as I do now.

My children have taught me patience, the joy in the simple things, and selflessness.  They challenge me to be the best version of myself, because they are watching every. single. thing. I. do. and. say.

They give me something to look forward to every morning and in all the years to come, watching them grow in character and personality.

I wrote a lot last year, when I was barely treading water.  But now, I’m simply enjoying making memories with them.  Hopefully that is something worth reading.

Pruning

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Pruning- “Trim by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth.”*

Pruning is a task that is not fun to do and yet is so fun to watch the effect of having done so. A flowering bush once weighed down with too many blossoms, some way past their prime, returns to its glory with new buds, intoxicating the surrounding air with its fresh fragrance.

We know this to be true of plants, so why is it so hard for us to prune the rest of our life?

Old relationships that we’ve dragged along, just because we’ve always done so.

Extra-curriculars that helped us at one time but now seem to be an extra burden.

We add and add to our plate without ever taking-away and we find ourselves drowning.

Perhaps it is because we are afraid.  What if we need that dead blossom one day?  What will our life look like without it?

We will never know until we let go.

We must take the chance of channeling our energy into that which is thriving- new buds, new life that bring with it the sweetest of fragrances and the relief that we are truly focusing on that which is growing, not that which is past its time.

Grab your shears.  Take a look at your life as a whole.  Where do you want to focus your energy and growth?  What do you need to let go of?

Make the cut and feel the sweet relief of pruning.

 

*Oxford University Press. The Oxford American College Dictionary. Published G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002.