Wednesday, 18 February 2015

What I want to give up for Lent

Lent has arrived and there is much I want to give up.

I want to give up my worries, all of them. Always worry has been my steady companion and tormentor. There have been too many sleepless nights, too many what ifs, too many knots twisting stomach and shoulders and relationships because worry, worry. Because of these anxieties, I have seen things that do not exist, believed things about others that are untrue, and heard words that were never said - demons, all of them, that worry has given life to. I have not trusted you, Lord, in the small things or the significant things; forgive me.

I want to give up my apathy. Too often I am content with the bread and circuses society offers, and in doing so I turn my eyes and heart and hands away from that which should fully capture them. I line my thighs with excess calories while others go hungry. I buy things I do not need. I scoff at the idiocy of a culture that would discuss at length the appropriateness of wearing yoga pants while giving no thought at all to the working conditions of those who make their clothes in the first place, and yet in so many ways, I am no different. I can be equally unconcerned, equally unbroken, over the things that deeply matter rather than the frivolous things that raise my blood pressure and occupy my thoughts. Forgive me, Lord, for my apathy.

I want to give up my perfectionism, that drive that says if you can't do it just so and all the way, then why bother doing it at all? This perfectionism has kept me from carrying out in body what my heart desires. It has heaped shame on those I love. It has made me a poor friend. It has limited my desire to live a full and creative life. I want to do not for approval, but for Love's sake alone. Forgive me, Lord, for the control I have allowed perfectionism to have and all that I have allowed it to rob from my life and my relationships.

I want to give up my hurry. Always rushing about, quick, we'll be late, come on, let's go, I want to get home, pay attention, this needs to get done, I'm busy, I have other things that need attending, quick quick hurry hurry now. I want to be less inconvenienced by the minor nothings that cause me to sigh or rant my impatience, those moments of spilled cereal or late-night needs or other such grand-scheme-of-things trivialities. I want to be slow, calm, more willing to see joy than to rush through the moment's task. I have missed much in my busyness; forgive me, Lord.

If only it were possible to turn these things off, the way I turned off my computer in past years. Remove them from the house like foods we've given up before. Put them in a drawer and leave them there while these forty days pass by.

If only.

But these things are woven among the better parts of me, not easily separated and set aside. They are my continually-working-out areas, long and slow processes as the One who created me untwists the broken parts inside, burns away the impurities and brings me ever closer to my true and whole self.

I'll quietly choose something different this year, something separate and concrete - but if I could, I'd give up all of the above instead.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Whoever said the days are long?

Whoever said the days are long?

(Oh yes, I did, once or twice or probably a lot.)

They don't feel long anymore. These days I'm holding on tight, and when I'm not holding on, I'm reaching to catch up. Where do the hours go?

Every day the baby looks older, the toddler jabbers on more clearly, the little boy learns more, and the bigger boy asks more. We moved the boys into bunk beds this weekend, and my (oft-neglected) craft room has been turned into a bedroom for baby girl. We're back down to just three in our bedroom now, the smallest baby and the husband and I, and I already miss hearing her light snores. But now she's in big-girl underwear and a big-girl bed in her own big-girl room and I guess it's time I stopped calling her baby girl?

No. She's still my baby. They all are.

I know why the days are slipping away like this. It's because of this death grip I have on them. Wait. Slow down. I need more time. I need more moments. I need more memories. It's all going by too quickly. I'm missing it, mourning its passing, even as it happens.

Relax. I tell myself again and again but I can't seem to let go of that frantic feeling. They're growing up and I make too many mistakes and I'm tired and there's so much to do and even more that I want to do and so much I never get around to and I need to get off this hamster wheel.

I know what I need to do. I know it demands surrender instead of control, calm rather than panic, intention rather that reaction - oh yes, and probably an earlier bedtime, as sad as that makes my introverted self.

I know what I need because there are moments when I feel it, moments when I actually get it right. It happens when I watch the baby fall asleep, when I say yes to a request for a bedtime snuggle, when I get outside and breathe the crisp air, when I run or laugh or look someone in the eye, when I turn off the light on another day and feel satisfied...

...when I celebrate this moment instead of grieving its passing.

This is my daily practice, today and tomorrow and the day after that, every day, trying again and again to enjoy the passing hours instead of clutching them in my fist in an attempt to hoard what will inevitably pass by.

Relax, laugh, celebrate, and enjoy.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Be A Good Recipient

"No, really, let me. I don't mind. It's no trouble at all. I'll take care of it."

I was brushing off yet another offer. It's what I do. Blame my Canadian nature or my shy personality or my reluctance to cause anyone the least bit of inconvenience in my behalf - whatever the cause, I am much better at turning down an offer than I am at accepting one.

This time, though, I wasn't going to get away with it quite so easily.

"Cynthia, I want to do this for you. I want to serve you in this way. I want to bless you. Please. Now be a good recipient."

Be a good recipient. If there's one thing I'm not, it's that. No really, I'm fine, it's okay, don't worry about it. I can handle it. Don't go to any bother on my behalf. How many times have I answered this way, brushing off one offer or another in my determination not to...what? Not to inconvenience anyone? Not to act as though I am worthy of what is being offered to me? Or is it really disguised pride, a reluctance to appear in need of anything, always the giver rather than the receiver?

But with those words - "be a good recipient" - I heard the heart behind them and I relented. I accepted the offer. I let go of my worry and relaxed. And it was Good. It truly was a blessing.

I needed those words to remind me that by declining every offer, I deny others the opportunity to bless and serve in the way they feel best willing and able. They are offering me this blessing, this act of love, and I am refusing it. I doubt the sincerity of their offer and thereby call them liars. I doubt my worth in receiving such a gift and thereby prevent others from showing their love for me. We both miss out.

I've been trying to say yes more often since hearing those words. I've been trying to be a good recipient. So far, perhaps to no one's surprise but my own, it has been a beautiful thing.

Maybe you need such a reminder as well? Allow others to bless you, to serve you, to be a help or a comfort to you. Accept the love that is being offered to you. Be a good recipient.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

New year, old me

I love the feel of the new year's blank slate as much as the next person. New words, new goals, new hopes and plans, it's just all so shiny and new.

I used to plunge into the new year certain that my mere resolve would make me into a new person, every thought and action purposeful and exact. I'd get it all right this time. That usually lasted about until the minute I had to wake up from my warm cozy bed on New Year's Day. I'm not very good at resolving to be a better person.

Last year I simply chose to go forward into the new year, each step brave and difficult and enough for the moment. I went forward through that year and marveled at all the good and lovely things that happened, from our New Year's Day discovery of a little stowaway, through a Lent of gratitude, beyond a busy summer, past catching that same little stowaway as he arrived into this world, all the way to December and our first Christmas spent at home instead of travelling. It was a very healing year.

This year feels like a year in which to be Fearless. Less worry, more life, that's what this year needs. But I've lived through enough new years to know it's not going to be as simple as that.

Because it all boils down to habits, doesn't it? One thing at a time, slowly, deliberately, it's the most likely way to craft a change that will last.

And so this fearless year is going to start with one simple thing, a morning alarm. These four lovely noisy children have long been my alarm, but somehow I sense that this season needs a change in that regard. A real alarm, a dedicated Time To Get Up, a way to start the day a little less abruptly and a little more purposefully, that's what this season needs.

It's a new year, yes, but let's not try to reinvent ourselves completely. We're still the same people we were a week ago, two weeks ago. A new year does not a new person make - but it can be a nice start to a new habit. One thing, however seemingly small, is another step on this continual turning toward Better.

New year, old me, new habit.

Do you have a word or a hope for 2015? Is there a new habit are you currently working on? What are you looking forward to this year?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Why I Love Dinovember

The dinosaurs have come and they are wreaking havoc throughout our house. The kids wake up every morning and I listen - sure enough, "Mommy, it happened again!"

Those naughty carnivores.

It's no secret that we don't include Santa Claus in our Christmas celebrations. I'd express it differently now but my feelings haven't changed. No elf sits on our shelf in December. The Easter Bunny doesn't stop by in the spring. We don't leave notes for or gifts from the Tooth Fairy; when the coin is found, any questions received only a shrug and a wink. For a variety of reasons, these things just don't have a place in our home.

But Dinovember? I'm in love.

I love it because it makes no sense. It's just plain ridiculous fun, the best kind of fun if you ask me. There's no reason behind it, no logic to it, and no lesson to be learned. It's pure silliness, end of story.

I love it because it isn't tied to anything. It isn't associated with any holiday, and it doesn't arrive with the expectation of gifts or candy. You can't buy a Dinovember backpack or a Dinovember hoodie or a Dinovember anything (book aside). It's entirely random, self-directed, and uncommercialized - grassroots, if you will.

I love it because it doesn't try to control anything. There's no threat of a giftless holiday for misbehaviour. The dinosaurs aren't watching and reporting back to someone else. They offer neither explanation for any of life's mysteries nor reward for its milestones. They don't come with a tidy little moral. Nothing. Nada. They just are.

I love it because it can be as simple or as extravagant as you please. Fill the bathroom sink with water so the dinosaurs can have a midnight swim, or cover the entire bathroom in toilet paper and shaving cream. There aren't any accompanying crafts or recipes or printables, no expectations beyond dino mischief in any form of your choosing. Or non-mischief, for that matter - some nights our dinosaurs have proved to be exceptionally helpful.

I just love it.

Now if you'll pardon me, I have some dinosaurs to wrangle.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

What I Am Into - October 2014

What I Am Into :: October 2014

Well, another month has come and gone and still I've lacked the use of two hands and a brain to do much writing in this space of mine. All I have to offer in its place is another summary of what we've been into these past weeks. And on we go.

The picture above is a good representation of this month: enjoying the rain. We've been getting together with a few friends to hike with our kids each week, and right now that invariably means hiking in the rain. It's good for the legs and good for soul, but boy, do I ever have to talk myself into going each week. The group has become a nice source of accountability for me, as it is much more difficult to back out of a hike when it means I have to admit to other mothers that I'm simply a wimp when it comes to cold and rain. So I put on my brave face and get us all out there and I've never once regretted it. I mean, just look at the smile on baby girl's face! I'm so glad I didn't miss that moment.

On My Nightstand:

I read Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects early this month. I quite enjoyed Dark Places and absolutely adored Gone Girl, but by the time I finished Sharp Objects, I wished I hadn't picked it up in the first place. The writing was disturbing and graphic in ways that added nothing to the plot. To add insult to injury, I had called the ending quite early on in the book. Just disappointing all around.

For my next book, I wanted something that relied more on actual writing skill than mere shock value, so I picked up Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It was recommended somewhere as being a good option for adults who enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and so far I would agree with that assessment. It is both interesting and enjoyable, but its length and writing style (coupled with my lack of time and sleep) make for a slow read.

I've also started Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and look forward to getting further on in that as well.

On the screen:

Each of my babies has been accompanied by a binge-watch of various TV shows. The boy came paired with Gilmore Girls, while his younger brother arrived along with our glorious introduction to Doctor Who. Baby girl accompanied a brilliantly nostalgic re-watch of the entire Boy Meets World series, and our newest sweet baby has finally given way to Parenthood.

The husband and I had tried to get into Parenthood last year, but never actually got past the pilot episode. During his last stretch of working out of town, though, I quite badly needed a really good distraction and decided to give Parenthood another go. It turns out that it's not an unenjoyable show, it's just not the husband's sort of show. On my own, I love it! I'm currently in the middle of season 4 and it's been the perfect fourth-new-baby-binge-watch pairing.

In My Kitchen:

I thoroughly enjoyed this Greek roasted potatoes recipe, along with some Greek chicken and a Greek salad. It's sounds boringly simple but it was truly one of the highlight meals of my month. Always nice to have a new option on the menu!

The kitchen currently smells like my favourite gingerbread cookies. We baked gingerbread people for All Saints Day today, and tomorrow we'll decorate them for All Souls Day. In a slightly morbid turn of events, the boy cut out a gingerbread head because, as he pointed out, "lots of the saints had their heads cut off." Well, true enough.

In My Memories:

Halloween has always been a bit of an unknown entity in our house. Some years we have avoided it completely, while other years have brought a half-hearted bit of participation. This year I decided, you know what? Forget it. We're going all in. We're going to have fun together and it's going to be great.

And it was. It so was.

We began our evening with my dad's family-famous layered taco dip. He always made this dip for special occasions when I was growing up, so I'm all kinds of nostalgic about it. I swear mine isn't as good as his, but it's more than passable nonetheless. We paired it with Witch's Potion (Coca Cola) and Unfiltered Poison (Sprite), a rare but exciting treat in our house.

As soon as the sun went down, we lit our home-grown carved pumpkins, which we had designed and cut out the night before. The boy drew an appropriately spooky jack o' lantern face, while his younger brother chose the somewhat more difficult route and requested Iron Man.

With dinner taken care of and jack o' lanterns glowing, we moved on to a little family party. We threw marshmallow "flies" into masking tape "spider webs". We turned out the lights and played glow-in-the-dark ring toss. We raced to wrap the kids as toilet paper "mummies", which the boy and I gleefully won while the husband laid down on the floor after making himself sick running in circles around the younger one. We tossed candy into cups. And as a hilarious grand finale, we hung donuts from strings and tried to eat them without the use of our hands. I haven't laughed so hard in a long long time. Just thinking of the four year old twisting around in circles trying to catch that donut in his mouth has me cracking up all over again. Ah, good times.

With the party portion of our evening over, we decided why not, let's go trick-or-treating after all. The boys ran for their knight costumes while baby girl became the most ridiculously adorable dragon in the history of dragons. We walked around our block and you know, it was the first time I had met nearly all of the people in those homes despite living here for a full year now. Interesting.

What I'm Looking Forward to in November:

Forget November, it's Dinovember! The kids were utterly mystified by this morning's breakfast table, where my beloved family calendar had been ruthlessly defaced and surrounded by dinosaurs armed with crayons. No one stepped up to take the blame for the mess, but those dinosaurs had better stay in their bucket tonight...

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?

Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Friday, 24 October 2014

At the end of the week

Ah. We made it through another one, didn't we? Another week is winding up and we survived; maybe we even did some things well. Maybe we even did some good along the way.

There were a few challenging moments, though, weren't there? A day when our patience just wasn't where we'd like it to be. A morning that began with an argument instead of a connection. An easy way out that turned out to be decidedly not worth it. Doubt instead of trust. Old habits instead of new. By what we have done and by what we have left undone, we wronged others and ourselves. And there is not one of us whose week can live up to the highlights shared on Facebook or Instagram.

But we woke up each morning and we tried again, and cheers to that, eh? We sought to right our wrongs, and we faced again all the worst parts of ourselves, seeking better. We did what we could. Some of us made lists, some of us made plans, some of us prayed, and some of us just took another brave step and then another.

Whatever we went through and however we got through it, here it is: the weekend, for whatever that may be worth. Oh, it has challenges all its own, to be sure, but I still say it's worth a decent something. A pat on the back and an extra piece of chocolate, at the very least.

I don't know what your week looked like. Mine looked like staying calm through a broken bowl, cleaning up the pumpkin guts spread across the floor, and then losing it over a spilled bucket of soapy water. I yelled about that spilled water and about endless messes and for that matter, what about the mess in that other room that still hadn't been cleaned up? It wasn't good or right or true or necessary, but it happened.

This week I braved the wind and the rain to take the kids hiking with some friends, and the weather decided to be kind to us after all. Three hours later, we were back in the van, eating cheese while I fed the baby before beginning the drive back home. My autumn comfort zone focuses mainly on warm blankets and hot apple cider, but I did this and you know what? Good for me.

This week I sat down to draw with the kids, reproducing our garden-grown pumpkins with orange and green and brown pencil crayons. Oh, I could make that sound so good. Look at us, drawing the pumpkins that we grew in our own garden! Isn't that lovely and perfect? But reality had me ranting about how he didn't even look for the pencils that I asked him to bring, the pencils that were right there in the jar where they always are, and that's not the right paper and we need pencil crayons, not markers, [exasperated sigh]. And then I kvetched some more because they weren't enthusiastic about another project we had planned to do. I mean, why can't they just be the perfect little characters in my self-directed play, where I plan something exciting and they grin cheerfully and everything looks like the picture in my head says it should look? Some days I forget that they're living their own individual plays, all of us intersecting, wandering on and off each other's stage. It can be beautiful when I don't try to control it all.

I handled some challenges gracefully, stumbled my way through others, and utterly failed a few of them. I did poorly and I did well; every week is a bit of both. Easy moments and hard moments, successes and stumbles, I've not had a week that hasn't seen them all. Soon we will head onward into another Monday - but for now, it's the weekend.

Well done, and enjoy.