Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mommy Tip Monday: Road Trip with a Baby in 33 Easy Steps

This wisdom comes from very recent experience.  While I was not getting any sleep last night it occurred to me that when daylight came it would be Monday and I could share it with you as my second installment of Mommy Tip Monday.

Overnight stays with a baby pose special challenges.  Here is what you should do:
  1. Put everything you own in a minivan.
  2. Put the baby, and any other participating family members in the minivan.
  3. Drive to location that is too far to drive home from in one day.
  4. Take everything you own out of the minivan.
  5. Simultaneously take baby out of the minivan.  
  6. Reintroduce him to the people who live too far away to see on a regular basis.
  7. Hope he does not cry when they hold him so you can organize your belongings.
  8. Take baby back from disappointed grandparents.  
  9. Put him on a blanket while you quickly move belongings out of common areas.
  10. Feed the baby.
  11. Visit and eat a meal while holding the baby.
  12. Arrange bedding and put older child to bed while baby cries in exhausted frustration at not being constantly held.
  13. Nurse baby for five minutes until he falls alseep.
  14. Put baby down and unwind for 45 minutes or so.
  15. Turn out the light.
  16. Immediately nurse the baby.
  17. Put the baby down.
  18. Spend half an hour trying to fall asleep.
  19. Nurse the baby.
  20. Spend 45 minutes sleeping.
  21. Nurse the baby.
  22. Repeat steps 20 and 21 until 4:20 a.m. when the baby wakes up and smiles at you.
  23. Ignore all of the images floating through your brain.
  24. Get baby back to sleep.
  25. When daylight comes find caffeine.  
  26. Continue infant/grandparent reintroduction program.
  27. Repeat steps 10-26 as needed until it's time to return home.
  28. Put everything you own back in the minivan.
  29. Drive back home.
  30. Take everything you own out of the minivan.
  31. Deposit it in random locations in your home.
  32. Repeat steps 13-19.  
  33. Sleep until you hear the baby crying or the neighbors knock on the door to complain about the noise.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Elizabeth Smart and Happiness Culture

photo credit: CountyLemonade via photopin cc

As we walked into the library a copy of My Story by Elizabeth Smart (with Chris Stewart) caught my eye.  I picked it up and continued the B-line for the children's section.  Maybe while Lenny took part in the reading program I'd be able to juggle Linus and the book.  Me time and multitasking.  I am the buzzword Mom of the day.

The book pulled me in from the first page.  I read all 308 pages in the next 24 hours or so. (It's possible that I missed some sleep, which is really saying something.)  I know I'm not the only one who has been fascinated by the Elizabeth Smart story.  If you are I recommend reading the book.  I'm not going to do a review of it here.  You can find plenty with a quick Google search.  What I'm going to do is write about what struck me most about the book:  How Elizabeth Smart dealt with the trauma once her ordeal was over.

From the beginning the book seemed a little self conscious to me.  Since it was written in the first person it was easy to get the impression that Smart was trying to promote certain ideas and discount others.  I started to think that one could get a pretty clear picture of how she sees the world now as well as how she saw it at the time of her abduction.  Sometimes the differences between her child and adult selves were clear.  Sometimes they were not.  It was clear that her faith and her relationship with her family have been keys to her understanding of and ability to cope with the world throughout her life.

I was amazed that throughout the book she continuously described a loving God who cared for her throughout her suffering even as He allowed it to continue.  She admitted to being confused about why He allowed the situation, but made a distinction between God wanting her to be treated the way she was, and His allowing free will and the evil that people may perpetuate as a result of that.

I was impressed by the fact that, although her captor was able to get inside her head and convince her that he would kill her and her family if she escaped he was never able to convince her that his "prophetic" utterances were a true depiction of God.  Also, although she was clearly steeped in "purity culture" and taught to value modesty it was comforting that she was confident that her family would still value her and welcome her if she ever had the opportunity to return to them.

It was at the end of the book, though, that I started to question whether her faith and her family, despite all the strength they seemed to give her throughout her ordeal, might have steered her wrong to some extent.  Or at least might put her in a category of people that is hard for most of us to relate to.

This is what Elizabeth Smart says her mother made a point of telling her the first morning after she was back home:
"Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible.  There aren't any words that are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is!  He has taken nine months of your life and that you will never get back again.  But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.  To move forward with your life.  To do exactly what you want.  Because, yes, this will probably go to trial and some kind of sentencing will be given to him and that wicked woman.  But even if that's true, you may never feel like justice has been served or that true restitution has been made.
But you don't have to worry about that.  At the end of the day, God is our ultimate judge.  He will make up to you every pain and loss that you have suffered.....  ....You don't every have to worry.  You don't ever have to think about them again.
....You be happy, Elizabeth.  Just be happy.  If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away.  So don't yo do that!  Don't yo let him!  There is no way that he deserves that.  Not one more second of your life.  You keep every second for yourself.  You keep them and be happy.  God will take care of the rest." (pages 285-286)

Wow.  Not "find healing, peace, wholeness."  Just "be happy, do what you want."  Now I don't know what I would say to my teenage daughter on the morning of her return after nine months of captivity and torture.  I'm sure I would make a few mistakes.  But the scary part to me is that Elizabeth says that this was good advice.  That her mother was right.  The minute I read it I wondered if what her mother really meant was "Don't be damaged or broken.  Don't let anyone see that this trauma has changed you at a very basic level.  Don't accept any emotions other than the ones that make us all comfortable."

I hoped it wasn't the case.  I looked, during the rest of the book for evidence that her family had understood that this type of trauma is not something you can just walk away from.  I found some.  That first night her parents (possibly still traumatized themselves) wanted her to sleep in their room on a mattress on the floor.  But she (having spent months in makeshift beds on the ground, cooped up with two adults) wanted to sleep in her own room.  She says that her parents offered the options of "Counseling.  Therapy.  Doctors and medication." She was the one, she says, who decided that these weren't right for her.  Horse riding with her grandfather and harp playing were her therapy of choice.  She also implies that God and her mother's strength gave her the ability to heal.  Also being grateful for the fact that pretty much everything in her life now is better than what she went though during those nine months.

But I wonder about the brain's ability to recover from a trauma like that.  During the course of some counseling I've had we've talked about how the brain needs to "file" memories of events so that they don't "ambush" us when we are reminded of them.  Sometimes, when we are under great stress, the memories are not processed.  They just kind of rattle around, waiting to flood our bodies with the sensations we felt at the time of the original experience - adrenalin, physical pain, terrible sadness.... the whole gamut of emotions.  Professionals have learned strategies that help trauma survivors process these memories.  We rarely do it the best way when we are close to the situation and the person involved.

And I wonder about how her current persona - the poised, carefully groomed, beautifully dressed woman who makes speeches, goes to receptions and has a foundation for helping children - affects other victims who hear her story and hear the words "no professional therapy.  I didn't need it."  She does say in the book, "But it's very important to stress that every survivor must create their own pathway to recovery.  What works for one might not work for another.  Therapy, medicine, and counseling might be the right path for some people, but not for others.  The fact that I chose a pathway to recovery that worked for me is not to suggest that it's the best path, or that it's the only path.  The only thing it suggests is that I found the path that worked for me." (pages 297-298)

Sounds so tempting, though.  Let a 14 year old decide that she doesn't need therapy after a MAJOR life trauma.  Go with her on some horse rides.  Encourage her to spend time playing music.  All done.  She's fine.  In case you think that I just have issues and am projecting them on to this situation I did some searching on the internet.  Most of what I found was articles about how great the book is or what interviews Smart has given or where she is speaking.  But I found one site, started by a sexual abuse victim, that brings up issues like the ones I'm talking about.  This site has the raw emotions - the anger and hurt - that I would expect to hear from abuse victims.  It also questions whether she was actually traumatized in the ways she claimed to be.  I don't want to endorse that at all.  It surprises me that a survivor of this type of abuse would make such statements.  But this quote (written before the book came out) supports my idea that Smart's recovery may not be encouraging to other victims:
The Smart case made me think to myself “What’s wrong with me?” “Why was I so sick, dysfunctional, full of phobias and fear? Why did I have panic attacks, suffer from deep depression, have nightmares, and want to die? Why did I need so many years of therapy and all Elizabeth had to do was talk to her parents?” It finally became clear to me that Elizabeth’s comments were demeaning to victims of child sexual abuse, kidnapping, and torture.  If she was truly a victim then she ought to explain in detail how exactly just talking to her parents has cured her. 
I don't doubt that Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and subjected to the horrors she describes in her book.  And I truly hope that she is both happy and healthy.  I just wonder what parts of the story the Smart family has chosen not to share.  And I hope that others, who's journey to wholeness seems more winding and dark, will find hope and encouragement and get the help they need.

I know that the desire to overcome, the need to show that we are utilizing the abilities and blessings God has given us, can sometimes cause us to hide needs and weaknesses - even from ourselves.  We sometimes avoid the very means by which we could find healing and wholeness.  For a while we may be able to function and even seem strong, but we end up suffering more than we need to.  I've written before about how feeling like we are not allowed to acknowledge struggles can rob us of our joy.  God doesn't ask us to be strong.  He asks us to fall on Him.  He doesn't set a time limit on when we need to have worked through or let go of our hurts.  He isn't worried about us wasting the precious seconds of our lives.  We have plenty of time.  We can be happy.  We can know peace, joy, and wholeness.  It may be a messy process.  I hope that Elizabeth Smart and the rest of us have the room we need to work through our hurts and heal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Vision's New GLBT Policy: In Case You Want to Help a Child in Need

I first saw the link that had been posted by a Christian blogger I follow on Facebook.  "World Vision: Why We're Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages".  The comment she added indicated that she didn't feel that the organization was making a huge mistake.  This launched her into a Facebook discussion which, judging from the tone of later comments she  made, got a little heated and less than friendly.

I do not want to get into that type of discussion.  Although I think about the issue of how the church treats the GLBT community and have done some (online) reading on the topic, I am not ready to debate the issues right now.  I don't have the energy.  I'm not actually sure what I think about the issues, but I can tell you for sure that some types of responses and arguments will leave my faith in worse shape than it's in right now.

But I am going to write about one aspect of this situation that is troubling to me.  It seems, from what I see on Twitter, that some Christians feel that they should no longer support children through World Vision.  The are dropping kids immediately.  I don't have a news source worthy citation for this, but I heard that as many as 2000 kids may have been dropped already.  

I don't know how many new sponsorships WV usually gets in a donation cycle (month?).  Maybe they can pair new sponsors with existing children and make sure they get what they need.  But it seems likely that some kids who thought they had a committed sponsor will not get the help they usually get this month.

The problem is that kids and families are counting on this support to meet basic needs.  If a child did not have a sponsor to begin with the family might have found a different way to meet the needs.  But a sponsor committed to helping the child.  It was a promise.  Now it's gone.  

So I'm going to post a link to a site with information about World Vision and how to sponsor a child.  If you would like to help fill the gap this situation has created all the information you need is on Rage Against the Minivan's World Vision sponsorship page.

That's pretty much all I have to say about that.  So far I have not had to post a "comment policy" for this site.  In this case, though, I will be fairly rigid.  I do not want to discuss the morality of homosexuality or the right or wrong of World Vision's change.  I'm not even interested in slamming Christians who have decided to drop children.  I have said that I feel they have made a promise and are breaking it, so I guess to be fair I should be willing to listen to people who have a different view of that action, but I fear there will be a fine line between that and having the whole discussion.

So mostly, I just wanted to provide some information for people who are interested in helping children who need it right now. 

Update:  WV reversed decision.  I don't know how this will effect sponsorships.

photo credit: geezaweezer via photopin cc

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mommy Tip Monday: What to Buy for Baby

Linus, using his play mat and a Boppy during tummy time. 
This is a list my friend Katelyn posted on Facebook.  As soon as I read it I thought "That should be on a blog - how about mine?" It's personal, factual and fairly concise.  Hopefully if you have a first baby on the way (or know someone who does) it will be helpful.  Katelyn's sweetie has some special needs, which she refers to in her explanations.  But I find that her thoughts here apply to lots of babies.

Maybe I will start having regular "Mommy Tip Monday" posts.  We'll see.  In honor of Katelyn, who has taught me lots about feminism, I should probably call it "Parenting Tip Monday."  Dads can do most of this stuff too (unless we're talking pregnancy or breastfeeding).  But it's not as catchy, so I'll stick with this for now.

I've been noticing an increase in my friend's posting of baby things on Pinterest. I've also read some lists lately of things 'you don't need for a baby' and 'baby must-haves.' I wanted to share some experiences with baby stuff - what we use, what we like, etc.
  • Cloth diapers! They are awesome. We use prefolds with covers. Best Bottoms are our favorite brand of covers. Prefer the snaps to the Velcro. The Gerber prefolds big box stores carry have fallen to bits, but I guess we've been using them longer than normal; a typical baby probably would have outgrown them by now. Osocozy's (another brand of prefolds) are fraying a little, but he'll outgrow the size 1 soon (hopefully). We dry pail- wet bag in a trashcan from Target. We do a mix of cloth wipes and regular. I cut up some of Sean's old shirts and keep them in a used wipes container. We tried using an airpot to have warm water for them, but it didn't work very well. Cold wipes for Cutie Pie. Favorite video explaining folding prefolds:
  • Swing - I didn't want to worry about buying and having batteries for a swing so I opted for one with an ac adapter. It was great for the... five or so weeks we used it. Then we found out Cutie Pie couldn't breathe in it when he was asleep. The best part about the swing was its ability to put him to sleep so it lost most of its usefulness. It's a great thing to have though (you know, if your baby can breathe...). Safe place to put baby while you're showering or whatever.
  • Whale tub - People say you don't need a special baby tub and I guess you don't. Toss your baby in a sink, hold them in your tub, you could probably wash them in a clean five gallon bucket if you really wanted to, but I love the whale tub. Trying to hold a wet, naked baby with hypotonia in the tub is pretty difficult. With the whale tub, he can't fall to the side or slide down. We give him a bedtime bath every night and just leave the whale in the tub or leaning against the wall in the hallway outside the bathroom. If having a whale hanging around your bathroom would drive you nuts, this isn't for you, but if having baby stuff all over would drive you nuts... babies may not be for you.
  • Play mat/gym - One of the great things about play mats is that they are just about the only toy a newborn has a use for. Cutie Pie loves his and would flail around happily before he was able to grab the toys. At 14 months, he still uses it daily, but I don't know how long a typical baby would have a use for it. (Rachel's note:  Since the toys all come off they are useful even after baby starts to be mobile.  Also the rings can be used to attach to other sites like strollers or high chairs to keep toys in reach.)
  • Boppy - I've heard these are great for breastfeeding, but I never used it for that so I can't comment. However, it's great for propped up tummy time, supported sitting, and keeping a rolly baby on his tummy.
  • Baby food - We make our own. It's quite simple: cook, puree, eat/freeze. We use a food processor to puree. A baby bullet or specialty appliance isn't necessary at all. Once the food is pureed, we freeze it in ice cube trays then pop the food cubes out and into freezer bags. Cutie Pie on his very best day will sometimes eat 2 cubes at a time. I don't know how much a typical baby would be eating/how much freezer space they would require. We like to make a bunch of food at one time and so far it was been really easy.
  • Newborn clothes - I would not waste money buying too many newborn outfits. Cutie Pie wore almost exclusively pajamas. We didn't manage to get him in all the newborn outfits we were gifted and he grew incredibly slowly. Some babies are even born too big for the newborn size anyway.
  • High chair - We have a standard high chair. I like having it for meals and sticking him in when I'm in the kitchen. If you have no space (we have a dining room), I've seen some neat chair attachments that would probably work well. 
  • Bassinet - Cutie Pie sleeps in our room in a pack n' play. We considered using a family heirloom bassinet, but it was rickety and wooden and I was afraid he would hurt himself/it would collapse. Since the packn'play works well and I would want one anyway, I see no need for a bassinet. We use the pack'nplay as a bed when we travel and if your baby is mobile I'm sure it would make a nice safe play to cage them. 
  • Breast pump - I exclusively pump. I started with an Ameda, but burned out two motors. I have an awesome Medela hand pump for traveling and now rent a hospital grade Ameda pump. I wish we would have bought it for how much it is costing to rent. At one point I was pumping seven times a day, but am now down to five. Your health insurance will cover a pump, get one (check with insurance on how to do it, you may need a script).
  • Bottle feeding supplies - We bought Dr. Brown's, Medelas, and Evenflos. Cutie Pie could only eat with an orthodontic Nuk nipple so the Dr. Brown and Medela bottles were of no use to us. We found plastic bottles took forever to warm up and switched to glass Evenflos. Sean's mom gave us a bottle warmer, but it didn't seem to work at all. We microwaved water in a mug and set the bottle in it. Now he prefers cold milk so we just pour and go. For outings we have a small cooler from the hospital. It came with an ice pak. When we were heating his bottles, we used a hot water thermos from Tommee Tippee ( Cutie Pie was born right as bottle manufacturers were switching to all-in-one systems that weren't interchangeable. The first bottles we bought, for the most part, had interchangeable parts (bottles, rings, nipples), but now Nuk products only match with other Nuks, Evenflos with Evenflos, etc. I would recommend buying one to see if your baby likes it before stockpiling. For washing, we use a bottle brush and dry in regular dish drainer, no bottle drying racks or systems.
  • Blankets - Swaddling is pretty easy after a little practice. I've never used any special swaddling devices, I can't see them being worth it. But, please, PLEASE, read about safe sleep and reducing the risk of SIDS. Really, do all the reading you can about baby safety in all areas, car seats, sleep, putting poison away, covering outlets, etc.
  • Stroller - Having a car seat stroller combo is great. Pop the car seat into the stroller and go. This has been especially great during polar vortexes. I don't have to worry about carrying him to the car in the wind and snow, he's covered in the car seat. For a typical baby, though, they probably would not fit in an infant car seat after the first year.

Most of the things we have, we didn't buy. Our awesome friends and family gave us tons of stuff as shower presents! They also continue to give Cutie Pie all kinds of presents. Hopefully, this is helpful to someone. Have questions or rationale for why you bought or didn't buy something? Let me know!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables Or "How My Son Became a Tomato"

This post was originally written last May and posted on my other blog.   I just saw another blog post about the topic the other day though, and it made me think of this.  Lenny is, naturally a little older now and might not actually have a meltdown over being prevented from eating tomatoes.  Maybe.

I was just reading an article online about how to influence your child toward good eating habits.  Most of the tips involved actually exposing children to a variety of good quality produce.  At that exact moment Lenny was eating cherry tomatoes and a tortilla with ham and veggie cream cheese for lunch.  Mostly the tomatoes, though.  The container I bought new yesterday now has three tomatoes in it.  Half the tortilla was gone.  Finally I told him he couldn't eat any more tomatoes.  I snapped the container shut and put it in the fridge.  By the time I got back he was crying uncontrollably.  I explained that if he just eats fruits and veggies and doesn't eat other food he won't grow up to be big and strong.

It's not that he doesn't enjoy some junk food as much as the next kid.  Chocolate ice cream and pizza are at the top of his list.  But last summer when we were getting lots of amazing veggies from our "Community Supported Agriculture" farm he would rate food on whether or not it was "better than pizza."  Potato soup - with a variety of additions or just onions, potatoes, milk and salt - was high on his list. Pretty high on mine too because it was easy and used up some produce we had tons of most of the time.

Today he was upset because it was cloudy.  I told him that I don't have control over that and he said he wished I was God.  He said then I could make it so that he could have chocolate ice cream and go in the pool every day.  I didn't go into the theology behind that one.  Sometimes you really just have to let an idea ride.

Another idea in the article was to eat healthy as a parent.  I have been accused of being a healthy eater, but I think that it's more a case of being acutely aware of how food affects how I feel and eating accordingly.  When I really started having trouble with fatigue a doctor suggested I do an elimination diet and as a result I stopped eating wheat, corn, soy, non-organic eggs, most nuts and some other odds and ends I'm probably forgetting.  I stick to these "restrictions" pretty religiously because I hate to have migraines and some of the other symptoms that eating the foods above give me.  I also avoid most red meat because I don't like the cramps I get if I eat them.  So I cook a lot of foods from scratch and eat a lot of foods found in the the "health food" section. 

We had tons of "greens" last summer.  I like them best cooked and put them in soups and stews as well as sauteing them with onions.  It got to the point that when we had a meal without them Lenny asked "Where's the green stuff?"

My avoidance of wheat does not translate to a gluten allergy or intollerance.  I sometimes make my own home-made pizza, but since I don't eat yeast the crust doesn't really compare with store bought.  Lenny didn't like it as well as the frozen kind.  I haven't made it for a while as a result.  He recently suggested I try it again since his tastes might have changed.

Beats were another big winner from the CSA.  Actually they've been popular every year that Lenny was eating solid food.  I think if you look back you will find pictures on the blog of him covered in them.  Thankfully now he can eat them without so much mess, but last summer it was till wise to remove clothing that wasn't purple or dark colored.

So to make it a little more general, I would suggest the following:
  • Eat food you love - hopefully with veggies included.  We love curry.  Easy way to sell all kinds of veggies.  Stir fry, soups and stews, even tossing them into a creamy pasta dish are other ways of including veggies in foods you love.
  • Have the best quality produce you can afford.  Doing a CSA means that we have tons of great quality stuff in the summer.  But in winter we use frozen cooked veggies and bagged salad.  We do what we can afford and what works.
  • Serve raw veggies salad bar style.  That way everyone can pick the ones they like best and those who live in mortal fear of foods touching each other don't get stressed out.
  • Foods not touching is a stage.  Most people outgrow it.  I don't think it's worth fighting.  We didn't get any of those handy plates with dividers, we just pulled out multiple small plates to make sure foods didn't contaminate each other.
  • Don't worry about making every meal a nutritional powerhouse.  Personally, I just don't sweat it if supper one night is just frozen pizza.  Chances are there was salad at lunch or will be apple sauce for snack.  
  • At our house everyone has to at least try everything at a meal.  But if I know that something isn't a big hit I will take it off rotation for a while.  Food that is too spicy is an exception.
  • But don't give up on a food just because it didn't go over well the first time.  Tastes do change and sometimes it just takes a while to get used to something.
  • Get kids involved.  I know.  Sometimes easier said than done.  Lenny loves to help wash greens.  He's always up for helping with baking.  And if he doesn't get to help set the table he feels he's been cheated.  
  • Always remember:  different people like different things.  Some kids will be harder to teach good eating habits than others.  Some are more sensitive to texture or strong flavor.  Food is just another area where we do the best we can and try not to beat ourselves up when it doesn't look like some pie-in-the-sky ideal.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Feminism and Faith: Learning to See People as They Are

 Another one came across my Facebook feed today, and I cringed a little, but I clicked on the link:  "23 Qualities of a Woman Worth Dating."  Actually, for the most part I thought it was pretty good.  It's written by a pastor and assumes that readers are looking for someone to date who they will consider marrying.  It stresses faith in God and personal character.  But my question is, why a list that focuses on qualities of women?  Why not just make a list of qualities of a person worth dating?  Finding out what differences this particular blogger thinks are important was not too hard since a link was conveniently provided to "23 Qualities of a Guy Worth Dating."

After a few minutes bouncing back and forth between the two posts I decided I really wanted to know and made my own table with the characteristics side by side.  What I found was interesting to me because I think it points to some of the assumptions we make in the church about how men and woman are different.  I also think it demonstrates some of the ways that those assumptions keep us from relating to people in healthy ways.  First, we tend to make generalizations about people.  Second, we perpetuate negative attitudes toward women.

Over half the items on these two lists, are identical in wording and in the order in which they are listed.  Another three seem to me to be mostly a matter of slightly different wording.  This makes me think that the areas that are different can actually tell us something about the author's attitudes toward gender and gender roles.  And the ideas seem pretty consistent with what one finds in the church and often in the culture in general.

First there are several assumptions about the role of a man in marriage.  His ability to provide, manage finances and protect a woman are all seen as important.  These characteristics are not even mentioned in the list of what to look for in a woman.  Some would argue that scripture teaches that these are the proper roles of men in marriage.  If you are convinced that these roles are spelled out with absolute certainty I am not going to be able to convince you otherwise in this one post.  You might want to check out this whole series of posts by Rachel Held Evans, who sort of specializes in this topic.  But I find that most of my Christian friends allow for some flexibility in these roles.  I know many women who work outside the home.  Most of the women I know are involved in spending, and therefore managing, the family income.  And I have found very few circumstances in which a man is actually called to physically protect his family.  

Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be "kind, modest, and appreciative."  It paints a much more passive and retiring role for women.

In spite of the fact that we have, to some degree, moved away from these roles we still hold them up as an ideal for how we should fulfill our roles in marriage.  This opens us up to valuing ourselves and other people based on how well they measure up to these roles, rather than seeing them for who they truly are and allowing each person to contribute what they are best able to give to the relationship.

The negative attitudes that are displayed toward women are more troubling to me.  The second characteristic to look for in a "guy" is that he is "driven."  In women?  It's that she's "supportive."  It turns out that our society doesn't value "driven" women, and tends to see them as overly aggressive.  This dovetails quite nicely with the "Biblical" role of women as "helpers" and ignores the idea that the word "helper" used in the Bible is often used to describe God as a "helper" or ally of His people -  not someone who is subordinate or weak.  Another one that jumped out at me is the contrast between the statements "He is trustworthy" and "She laughs at your jokes."  Both are characteristics I would value in any human, but contrasted like this it seems that a woman's job is to make a man feel good about himself, rather than have a good character.  Which is further supported by the contrast between "He is willing to work hard to provide" and "She doesn't gossip."  Gossip is not mentioned at all in the list of male characteristics.  Why?  Could it be that we tend to think of women as having this character flaw but men being generally immune from it?

My own marriage is, in some ways, very "traditional."  I am a stay at home mom and my husband provides all of our income.  He handles our savings and makes decisions about his retirement account.  But in many ways we work as a team, with each person contributing as he/she is able.  Yesterday I was feeling sick.  On the verge of getting mastitis.  I needed to rest, but the baby woke up late, crying inconsolably.  I couldn't deal with it and if I didn't get some rest I would be much more likely to face the new day seriously ill.  My sweet husband took the baby, calmed him down and then kept the restlessly sleeping child with him until almost five in the morning so that I could sleep.  It worked.  I am not sick today.  But my husband feels pretty miserable.

So if today we were in a crowded church service and you assumed that the chivalrous thing to do would be to get up and give me a seat (as this blogger encourages men to do) you would be wrong.  My husband would be the one who really needed to sit down.  The ideas that society and the church have promoted for so long about gender would make you blind to the actual situation.  If we are going to really love people we need to really see them.  And if we are going to do that we need to be able to put aside stereotypes and preconceived notions.  And maybe we can just make one list of traits to look for in a future spouse.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Parenting is Cheaper than Therapy

Lessons about victory and defeat are easy to come by these days.

When I was writing about blogging being cheaper than therapy I got to thinking about something else that is cheaper than therapy - keeping a journal.  Which reminded me of a book I read early in my illness called Writing Out the Storm: Reading and Writing Your Way Through Serious Illness or Injury by Barbara Ambercombie.  I remember this book being very helpful early in my illness so I decided to get out my journal from that time and see if I could use it to write a review of the book that would be helpful to other people.

The problem was that when I looked at those old journals it reminded me of a dark and difficult time in my life.  And so many of the entries were emotionally fraught.  I dealt with a lot of depression and loneliness and I poured a lot of mental anguish out on those pages.  When I first looked at them it was hard for me to see how it could have been helpful for me.  It seemed like writing it all down might have been a way to dwell in that dark place rather than helping me find a way out.

But today I found an entry that was much more hopeful.  It's dated June 10, 2006.  I was thinking about activities I did a lot at that time which felt like a waste of time.  I was thinking about what I would rather my life look like.  Here's part of what I wrote:

"Activity - "productive" activity, has become an obligation for me rather than a source of joy or pleasure.  Expressing myself is risky and part of me believes that the purpose of expressing myself is to correct myself.  Not for the joy of knowing who I am, but for the purpose of dealing with emotions, correcting faulty thinking, resolving old grudges, facing old fears, forgiving, remembering, letting go of pain, expressing anger.  These I feel are obligations - tasks I should accomplish because I should continue to grow and mature as a human being.  I have a goal - to become as emotionally healthy as I am capable of being so that my emotional health will not be a detriment to my physical health.  I am trying to be strong mentally so that I can deal with my physical weakness better.  I don't really want to know who I am, I just want to know how to deal with my past in a way that will allow me to view the present realistically, have motivation to do the things I want to do, and courage to face the future.

Many elements of this plan are good, but it has some basic flaws.  I will never have freedom to "do" until I give myself permission to "be."  I will never have motivation until I decide that I actually have the freedom to choose what I want to do.  I will not be able to walk away from anxiety until I find that there is victory in failure and beauty in imperfection.  Healing will come when I begin to believe that it is my right rather than my job.  My needs will become less overwhelming when I give myself permission to have them.  My anger will not be  able to hurt me when I can see it as a source of strength - not something that I need to have power over or that has power over me, not something I need to hide for fear of rejection and not something that everyone but me has a right to.

Becoming whole must be more than finding the parts that are broken and fixing them, more than dumping old baggage and learning to think more realistically.  Becoming whole must involve becoming aware of who I am, being willing to accept that person in the entirety and with no conditions.  Not "putting myself on project status" as Dr. Phil would say, but finding space to breath, coaxing my soul out of its hiding place and giving it ways to express the whole range of what it contains.  Censoring nothing, fixing nothing, manipulating nothing.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to know that even if I never accomplished anything for the rest of  my life I had at least known peace for one afternoon?  How much energy would I find if I could move by the motivation of my own desires, if I could lay down the weight of obligation and how much strength if I move away from the sting of disapproval?  What if I can learn to express myself for no other reason than to meet my soul's need for expression - not to be heard, but simply to speak - to cry, to laugh, sing, dance, run and fly, to scream and kick and punch, to break and build, to create and destroy, to stretch out, enlarge and reach beyond the limits?  Can I move because I want to and be still because I am ready to allow my soul to expand instead of moving out of obligation and being still because I am holding my soul at bay?

I hope so.  I hope I can find a way to being that balances pleasure and pain.  I want to find ways to move out of the cycles of disapproval and rejection to reject the myth that says that someone else knows better than I do how I should be.  I even want to move beyond believing that I know how I should be or even that I know how to get where I want to be.  I want to stop being so afraid of being lost and instead have the strength to look at where I actually am.  I want to know the relief of being who I am without any apology.  I want to be unfettered to know joy." 

It's interesting to me that becoming a parent has actually help me achieve some of what I was hoping for in this journal entry.  I think that parenting is a form of self expression.  I've heard people say that having a child means that part of your heart is walking around in the world.  I thought when I first heard it that this was overly sentimental, but I realize now that in some ways it's true.  Also,  I think that being a parent has helped me accept myself and learn to deal with my emotions in the following ways:
  • It helps me smile every day.  Kids are cute.  They do funny stuff.  It's not hard to smile at them even when  they are exasperating.  Which they are so...
  • Learning to deal with anger is an ongoing project.  Has a child ever looked you in the eye, picked a piece of food off of his high chair tray and flung it toward the corner of the room?  Lenny went through a phase where he did this at least once a day.  This is when I learned that it's possible to actually shake with anger.
  • Helping little people deal with their emotions has helped me be more accepting of my own.  When I want to insist that my children STOP CRYING I don't because I want them to learn healthy ways to calm themselves.  Helping them through the process gives me more confidence in my own abilities.
  • Knowing that I chose to be a parent - even though I didn't really know what I was getting in to - helps me embrace the challenges.
  • Carrying on in the face of crazy and overwhelming times has helped me learn to find peace in the midst of chaos.
  • Spending my days with my little ones involves actually building, destroying, dancing and exploring the world.
  • Celebrating my children's growth and achievements has helped me realize that life is a process.  I feel more confident that I can trust it to produce growth in my life also.
  • My children are beautiful and amazing.  Since they came from me looking at them makes it easier for me to believe there must be something lovely about me also.
I'm pretty sure that having children is not the only way to learn these lessons.  I think that being part of a community, doing fun, creative and amazingly difficult tasks can probably help anyone through this process.  For me, that happens to involve being a parent.  I hope that each of my readers, whatever your path, can be immersed life and learn to know joy.

Friday, March 14, 2014

How to Be a Human Being on the Internet (Does Anyone Know?)

I started this blog about six weeks ago.  I'd been thinking about it for a while.  I'd read a blog and think "I could do something like that."  Or I'd get all fired up about a topic, read good blogs on the issue and want to type up my own response.  But I didn't want my family blog getting much traffic from people we don't actually know.  And that sort of seems like the point of writing about topics and issues, right?  Having people read it?

Well it turns out one can scare up quite a few blog views by posting a few links in other, much more popular, blogger's comments sections.  Then if something you write resonates with another blogger and they share it around?  Also lots of hits.  Pinterest can be helpful too, but I think I'm not doing it right because I haven't gotten as many from that.  Which is sort of the point, right?  Doing it right?  Now there is suddenly a wrong way for me to do the internet?  Or to do blogging?  This started as an interesting experiment.  Suddenly I'm reading Twitter feeds hosted by a website dedicated to helping bloggers "do it better" (read make more money) and wondering if I should be putting ads on my site or trying to join more group boards on Pinterest.

All of that can get a little stressful.  Also it starts to feel a little forced.  Once in a while they mention having good content, or enjoying what you do, but it kind of feels like an afterthought.  I mean "you should enjoy what you do, but don't forget to check out this great site that allows you to edit pictures and create awesome graphics and if you subscribe please follow this link because I will get a commission."  Just paraphrasing.  I'll spare you the link.

But maybe it's because February was brutal and March is shaping up to be exhausting and terrible, but I've been obsessing about stats.  I'm trying not to totally abandon my family, but I feel the need to escape so strongly that I grasp on to the task of finding a few small ways to promote the blog each day as a way to exist - somewhere else.  And I'm still trying to figure out how to balance saying stuff that is meaningful to me with saying stuff people will find interesting while still maintaining healthy boundaries in terms of what I reveal about myself online.  Also, it seems important to treat other people well and I'm not always sure how to do that.

I agonized (a little) over my post about the Proverbs 31 mom because I felt bad about criticizing the woman who wrote the post.  But I also feel that women need to hear that there's more than one way to be a good mom and that the Bible isn't in the business of heaping burdens on us. I posted this piece on not thinking that we're doing something wrong just because times are hard as a kind of balance - just my perspective without needing to contradict someone.  But even then, the people I described in the post are real and could, in theory, read it and recognize themselves.

Because so far I have ended up writing about subjects I feel passionate about and revealing more about myself than I had anticipated when I started this blog.  I've had lots of positive responses, but it makes me kind of nervous.  I can really relate to this post by another blogger who's been blogging about her spiritual journey and feeling anxious about the repercussions. 

I joke about blogging being cheaper than therapy, but I don't want to end up in therapy because I blogged about something sensitive and ended up getting hurt.  I'm thinking about this because I've been following a blogger who recently wrote an article that got a lot of attention about sexual violence at the college she went to.  Later she shared on Twitter that the responses had been very hard for her to handle.  And I've been reading other posts about sexual abuse in religious settings and although I can see how it's so important to get the word out I keep thinking "Is this kind of vulnerability good for people who have been traumatize so much to begin with?"  (For a great summary of some of the stories I've been following check out this post, which also suggests a way we can help prevent these tragedies in the future.)

Thankfully I don't have that kind of "capital T trauma" to write about from personal experience. Although I haven't always had the most conventional life and I have had a few heartbreaks along the way, I have, in many ways, led a charmed and sheltered life.  I mean, when I say that February was brutal and March has been terrible I mean "lots of snow and cold weather and colds we can't shake and not getting enough sleep."  Not "civil war is tearing my country apart and we had to flee the only home my children have ever known in hopes of finding enough food to eat and a place where we won't get bombed" kind of terrible.

But it's my life and they're my struggles and heartbreaks and joys and it's what I know and seem inclined to write about.  I'm just not totally sure how much to share or in what context or..... what.  So may post a few recipes and some attempts to be funny and just give it some more thought.  Or I may seize on some idea or issue or experience I feel passionate about and throw it out there for the world to see.  Time will tell.  I'm still trying to figure out how to be a human being on the internet. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Banana Coconut Baked Oatmeal

Now for something completely different....

This recipe is very loosely based on a baked oatmeal recipe from the "Heartwarming Recipes, Bourbon Chapel" cookbook.  Actually, I had never heard of baked oatmeal before buying this cookbook (from a church that was no longer called Bourbon Chapel) but there were three slightly different versions, so I thought it might be worth trying.  From the beginning I added whatever sounded good and found it a very flexible recipe.  This version can easily be dairy free.

So since I usually skip most of the chatter on food blogs I will go straight to the recipe.

6 C oats (can use instant or regular.  I usually use half and half.)
4 t baking powder
1 t salt
2-3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
4 eggs
1 15 oz can coconut milk
1/3 C honey (or to taste)
2 C mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix bananas, eggs, coconut milk and honey in a smaller bowl using a fork or whisk.  Add wet ingredients to dry all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the liquid is absorbed.  It will be a fairly stiff mixture.  Add chocolate chips and stir well.  Bake in muffin tin (as shown above with liners or well greased) for 20-25 minutes OR a greased 9x13 for 40 minutes.  It should start to brown and be pulling away from the sides slightly.  This actually "ripens" and tastes sweeter if you let it sit overnight.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ten Signs You're Reading Too Many Lists on the Internet

  1. You clicked on this link.  Unless you are one of my loyal readers.  In that case you obviously do not have a problem.  Unless....
  2. You are still reading this list.  I really don't have anything to say, but since I put it in list form it seems so much more entertaining and easy to read.  So carry on.
  3. You are considering pinning this picture of a duck.  So that you will not lose this important list.  You might want to reread it later.
  4. You have based a blog post on a list you found on Buzzfeed.  Oh wait, that's me.
  5. When you follow a link to Buzzfeed you click on two or three other links on the site and spend at least half an hour reading.  It's OK.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step.
  6. You are at least 47% more likely to click on a link if it is presented in list form.  Really.  That's the threshold.  I just made it up and put it on my blog, so it must be true.
  7. You are still, still reading this list.  Because you are hoping that you have not wasted the last three minutes of your life and I really am going somewhere with this.  Or just out of habit.  Or to be polite.  Thank you for being polite.
  8. You are now cheering for me, hoping that I come up with the advertised ten reasons.  Because you are a really nice person and would hate to have a good list founder on the rocks of actually needing to have some real content.
  9. You are already scanning your Facebook feed for the next list.  Although this is not the list you were looking for, you are confident that it's out there somewhere. 
  10. You are hoping that the next list you find will also have a picture of ducks.  Because the only thing we need more than more lists is more ducks.
Thank  you for your support.  This is the end of the list.

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Am Not Doing Something Wrong

Some times the words we need to hear just fall out of our own mouths.  This has happened to me at least once and when it did it was so powerful that years later the words still echo in my mind.  Maybe these words are some that you need to hear to as we inch toward the end of a long, grueling winter.

I had a little help, actually.  I was sitting in my counselors office.  I was telling him about my relationship with a couple of ladies from church.  I was struggling with these relationships because I needed them so much.  My health was not good and I was particularly isolated.  These ladies were eager to help me.  They wanted me to come to one of their homes and they wanted to pray for me.  I had tried to tell them that I got sicker when I went to that home.  I had tried to tell them that praying was hard and emotionally draining for me because it seemed to me that God's answer was "not yet" (or maybe never in this lifetime) and that was heartbreaking for me.  But these messages were just not getting through.  I thought that maybe I wasn't very good at communicating.  It's not very logical, I guess, but when people don't get my point I tend to assume it's my fault rather than thinking maybe they just aren't listening.

So my counselor, who understood what I was saying very well, asked me this good question:  "If you could tell them one thing, what would it be?" 

And I answered instinctively, without thinking too much (for once), "Just because I'm having a hard time does not mean that I'm doing something wrong."

Just that.  Just because I am having a hard time does not mean you need to solve my problem.  Just because I'm having a hard time does not mean that I need to solve my problem.  Maybe I don't need to change anything I'm doing.  Maybe it's just a hard time.  Maybe what I need is for you to be with me in the hard time so that I am not struggling alone.

Now I get it.  Sometimes we are the authors of our own suffering.  Sometimes we reap what we sow.  And sometimes even if we didn't cause the situation that's making us suffer we can find ways to get through it better.  And sometimes other people can help us do it.

But sometimes not.  Sometimes we are not responsible for our suffering.  And sometimes we are suffering the very best way we can.  Sometimes we need friends who can be with us in the situation.  friends who can wish that our situation were easier while still accepting us.  Friends who know that we are not doing anything wrong.

And sometimes these are "big ticket" items, but most often they are the "everyday" situations that drag us down and can leave us feeling defeated and alone.

So I will write these words for you and also as a reminder for myself:
  • If you are in a job that you don't enjoy and are having a hard time getting up in the morning and facing another day with those co-workers... does not mean that you are doing something wrong.
  • If you're sweet, funny, smart kids are just about to drive you crazy most of the time, most days.... are not doing something wrong.
  • If your health has crashed and you can't figure out why or how to fix it... are not doing something wrong.
  • If your marriage is in a tough place and you are struggling to feel happy and communicate with your spouse... are not doing something wrong.
  • If depression has settled around you and you can't remember how to smile... are not doing something wrong.
  • If winter keeps pounding you and you've had one cold after another and you are physically and mentally drained... are not doing something wrong.
I'm not a "little orphan Annie" type of optimist.  I'm not going to claim that the sun will come out tomorrow.  I don't know when the sun will come out, although I have found that it usually does eventually.  All I'm saying is that for now, while we're going through those hard times, we don't need to beat ourselves up by trying to figure out how we're messing up.  And when we walk beside a friend who's in a hard time we don't need to try to figure out how to solve the problem.  Most likely we just need to be with them and let them know that they don't have to make it through alone.  It may feel scary to let go of the instinct to try to control and fix the situation.  But it can be a very powerful gift.  To give and receive the grace of knowing that just because you are having a hard time, it does not mean that you are doing anything wrong.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How to Bless a Mom with Chronic Illness: Practical Matters

Cooking with Grammy.  If we lived closer Lenny would do this often!
 I shared how being a good listener can be a blessing to a mom with chronic illness (MWCI).  Now I'll give some ideas about practical ways you can help a friend.  This will vary significantly, so this is just the time when being a good listener is important.  Sometimes when people offer to help I feel hesitant to tell them that their first idea or instinct will not work in my specific situation.  So keeping the channels of communication open can be doubly important in helping MWCI.

Just about every MWCI can use practical help at some point.  Most of my ideas fall into categories that could be helpful to any tired mom, but with a few modifications.


 Just about every MWCI I've ever encountered had some kind of special diet requirement.  Most people, after feeling bad for a while and not getting lots of answers from doctors start to explore how the food might be affecting her.  Gluten free, dairy free, low carb, avoiding certain foods because of sensitivities... I'm sure there are other possibilities.  I personally have a pretty long list of common foods I can't/don't eat.  So people who have helped me with food have had to take a creative approach.  Here are a few options:
  • Bring food she can feed to the rest of the family.
  • Find out what foods she can eat and prepare/buy those foods to bring.  This could include getting some hard-to-find ingredients from your friend.
  • Prepare food at her house.  It's still a good idea to check about ingredients and recipes.  At my house you can find foods and ingredients that I don't actually eat but use to feed the rest of the family.
  • Get groceries for her.  Considering the special diet issue it's really important to get a list and stick to it exactly.  If the 16 oz package of the store brand is specified but the 32 oz pack of the national brand is on a great sale it's probably best to ignore it and get what's on the list.
  • Clean her kitchen for her so that she has an easier time cooking.  In spite of my vigorous defense of us moms who don't keep shiny houses a clean kitchen is such a relief and blessing to me.  Sometimes when I have one I just go out to eat rather than messing it up!  But it also gives me a chance to make that extra batch of muffins or comforting pot of soup I've been thinking of.

One of my biggest insecurities as a MWCI is my fear that my kids will miss out because of my illness.  So anything that a friend does to help them has the double blessing of giving me a break and setting my mind at ease because I know they are having a fuller life than I can give them on my own.  Basically, anything you do for my kids, you do for me.  Here are some of the ways others have been able to help me:
  • Play dates.  I love these.  Sometimes I go along or the other mom comes to my house.  Then we get to visit and I love that because I can only handle so many conversations about cars and using the potty before I need to have an adult conversation.  Other times my son has been able to go without me and then I can take a break or get something else done.  Occasionally I've been able to have one of his friends over and then he gets the fun of a playmate without us having to leave the house.  (Unfortunately, because of my messy house situation I really only feel comfortable hosting play dates in the summer when we can spend time on our shady back deck.)
  • Outings.  Like play dates, only not at home.  This includes going to a park, the mall, the library, a museum, the zoo.  I like to go to places I'm not really comfortable at with another mom (or friend) because sometimes I get overwhelmed and it helps to have another set of ears and eyes.  It's also fun for my kids and a big help to me when they are invited along on an outing without me.  (OK, only the oldest has done this so far.)  Some friends have even hung out with my little one for the sole purpose of giving me a break.  Such a blessing.
Odds and Ends
I feel like I'm missing something major here, but I can think of a few seemingly small ways that friends have really blessed me.  These include:
  • Helping with driving when I had doctor's appointments.
  • Picking up special orders at stores that weren't near my house.
  • Helping with laundry.
  • Doing errands like taking recycling to the center.
So again, each MWCI is going to have a different situation and need or want help in different ways.  Communication is key.  Hopefully these ideas can help get a conversation going that will allow blessings to flow.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to Bless a Mom with Chronic Illness: Listening

I've been mentally trying to compose this post since I promised to write it a few days ago and again, I've realized that it's a huge topic.  The question of who these moms with chronic illness (MWCI) are should be addressed at least briefly.  And then I found myself constantly wanting to explain some of the realities of life with chronic illness to my imaginary audience as I juggled pieces of the post. (While trying to deal with the craziness of a sick baby, a sick self and a sick husband.  I guess my brain uses this as a kind of escape valve?)

So, I'm going to start by focusing this post on the best ways to listen to a MWCI because this is a HUGE way that anyone, mom or not, can bless her.  Also because it's not as easy as it sounds to begin with.  I have encountered listeners with a variety of skills and abilities over the years and I realize now I've been keeping a mental catalog of  what the most effective ones have done best.  Listening involves a response, and that's where it gets tricky.

On the point of who MWCI are, I will say that I am most familiar with the circumstances of moms with a variety of "invisible illnesses" such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, migraines, and depression.  Other than fibro I have experienced all of these personally.  I think that what I am going to share could apply to a wider range of illnesses, though.  Mostly those that have fatigue as one of the major aspects - thyroid problem, heart conditions, digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions and arthritis are a few that come to mind.

All right.  Tips for listening to a MWCI:

Believe her.  This may seem obvious, but it doesn't always happen.  Some of these illnesses are not well understood by the mainstream medical community.  Chances are we have been to several doctors and gotten very little help or information.  Chances are that we have talked to a few doctors who looked at our "normal" test results and cast doubt on the reality of our struggle.  Also, over time we may become champs at putting on a happy face and playing the role of a "normal" healthy person.  So it may be natural for people to be surprised when we share the extent of our struggles.  But we are often very sensitive to any suggestion that what we are saying is exaggerated or untrue.  Even if you are meaning to encourage your friend by telling her that the situation may not be as bad as she thinks the words can sting.  She may feel that you are implying that she doesn't know the reality of her own life or that she's trying to get attention.

I don't want to scare anyone off at the beginning, but sometimes us MWCI have some burns on our psychological skin and need some tender care to help heal them.  Treating the information we share with respect - believing us, asking open-ended questions that allow you to understand the situation better, taking time to listen carefully and clarify if needed - these can all be helpful.  You may want to make a statement like "I'm so sorry you're dealing with this.  I'd like to understand better." It may help clarify that you do truly believe but would like to know more.

Remember that she has lots to share besides her experience with illness.  Sometimes the illnesses we deal with have a profound impact on how we live our daily lives.  We may feel that up front we need to share some of these to be understood and "known."  Or we may prefer to get to know someone by sharing other information first and feeling safer in the relationship before we get to the health related stuff.  Possibly you've known this person for a while and are just now learning of her health struggles.  I wish I could give you a formula for when and how much a friend may want to talk about her situation, but it's different for each person.  The key is to be sensitive to the need to talk about other topics - both to relieve the pressure of personal revelation and to give her the gift of a balanced relationship.

Because:  MWCI need friends.  Some may start their health journey with a wide range of social contacts but I find that these illnesses are often isolating.  We are no longer able to join fully in the social scene we once enjoyed.  We may make plans but find we have to cancel.  We find people drawing away from us because they are uncomfortable with the illness or because they don't know how to fit in to the new reality.  We often don't know how to help others fit into either, but we need your friendship so much.  It most likely will need to be a process of trial and error, with much discussion, to find out what will work best.  Adjustments may need to be made in terms of how often, or for how long you spend time together.  Places or ways to communicate may need to be flexible.  Options that have been helpful for me have included:
  • Keeping in touch on the internet (this link deals with how people with chronic illness often keep in touch with each other online, but I've also found it helpful for keeping in touch with healthy family members and friends) or by phone.
  • Meeting at public locations like church, the library, the mall, restaurants, or outside places like a park.
  • Visiting at my house or theirs.
Speaking of church, if you share the faith of your friend with chronic illness please be aware that MWCI have a variety of experiences with their faith.  I think this falls into the "listening" category because it's a topic that may come up in discussions.  My experience with this is pretty much exclusively with Evangelical Christianity, so I'll share what I know about that.  Some find that the promises of  Scripture are comforting and encouraging and are able to cling to them through the "valleys" of poor health.  Others (me included) struggle to understand how this time of struggle fits with a loving, compassionate God.  Sometimes the weight of unanswered prayer can make it hard for us to approach the Father with our needs and concerns.  It can be very hard for MWCI do deal with with statements that imply that if they had more faith or prayed more their situation would be better.  Some have found the assurance that "God does not give us more than we can handle" comforting, but personally I find it to be unsupported in Scripture and a false expectation.  If you discuss matters of faith with your friend you may find that the ideas that are comforting to you fall short for them.  People who have been able to treat this situation with a gentle respect have been a big blessing to me.

It's good to remember that MWCI have usually done a lot of research about their specific condition.  She is probably not sharing with you because she hopes you will be able to provide her with that key piece of information - about a treatment or a diet change - that will put her on the path to health.  We can get a lot of suggestions, even if each person we talk to only gives a few.  We sometimes get a little frustrated by this.

It's helpful to keep the channels of communication open regarding health matters.  Chronic illnesses are not static.  Symptoms may wax and wane, or even go into "remission."   Your friend may not mention her health issues for a while.  It may be encouraging to her to let her know that you are still aware of her situation by asking from time to time how it's going.  Asking when you have the time to listen to the details and offer sympathy and support will let her know that you are genuinely plugged in.

Chances are your friend would like to reciprocate the blessing of being a good listening partner.  You may feel that you don't want to burden your friend with your struggles, but healthy relationships involve give and take.  Some times may work better than others, though, depending on what your friend is dealing with at the moment.  Also, she will likely want to celebrate your joys with you, even if they are blessings she has not experienced lately.

Well, that's about what I've got for communication.  Some time in the near future I will share some ideas about more hands on ways you can help a MWCI If you have any resources or relevant sites you would like to share please feel free to leave the links in the comments section.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Myth of the Proverbs 31 Mom

I'm planning to write a post called "How to Bless a Mom with Chronic Illness."  I'm eminently qualified to write it and I have lots of positive suggestions (and a few warnings, it's true.)  But first, I am going to respond to this blog post, which I read yesterday because another mom with a chronic illness pointed it out and shared her response to it.  Several other mom's chimed in, mostly with illnesses also or with children with special needs.  I chimed in too - three times in a row.  Then I tried to leave a comment on the website.  But in spite of trying to stay very polite (while staying within the 500 character limit) my comment has now been forever lost in "moderation."

That's all right.  The more I thought about this post the more I thought that although moms with chronic illnesses (MWCI) have a special reason to have a beef with her suggestions this author is just generally so far off in her idea of what an "ideal" woman should be and in her approach to "encouraging" other women to live up to the ideal.  I considered just letting it go.  She and I will most likely never agree on any number of topics even though we both "say" we are Christians.  That's allowed.  I don't have to refute every line of reasoning I disagree with on the internet.  And I sure don't need to try to pick fights with other bloggers.

But I could never seriously consider not writing about this because it's such an important issue.  Because as moms we carry around this enormous weight of our own and other people's expectations of us.  Because sometimes this steals the joy of the beautiful moments.  Because I absolutely do not believe that the Bible teaches that we should operate this way or that God would be pleased to see us doing it.

Well, you can read the blog yourself, so I'll try not to spend too much time telling you what it says. I felt that the post started pretty well, actually.  The question of how much of our personal struggles and failings we need to share online is open for discussion, in my opinion.  Although I have already blogged about the benefits of being able to admit to having a really bad day I can also see the advantages of balancing our admissions of less-than-perfect-contentment with reminders (if only for our own encouragement) that some moments are beautiful and sweet.  Sometimes I feel that moms who are getting a good response to the humor of the icky moments leave out the balancing moments and are being entertaining rather than "real."  Some people aren't into that.  That's fair.

On the point of whether or not efficient, energetic moms who keep their houses clean and cook wholesome delicious meals for their families are "real" moms I think that the key is to remember that in this case "real" is being used to mean "genuine."  I know some of these moms IRL.  I've been in their homes and had a cup of tea with them.  I love them.  I love the serenity of their homes and the fact that they take time out to visit with me.  I love it when they let me rest in their homes while they move on to the next task.  I even love it when they are embarrassed that their kids didn't put their dirty clothes in the basket or when they can't help dropping the game they are playing with the kids and starting to organize the toys.  I especially love those moments because those are the times when they are being "real."  When I see that the "got-it-all-together" mom is doing life in the way that makes most sense and feels most comfortable to her and that she still struggles.  These moms have been such a big blessing to me that I almost just rolled this right into the "How to Bless" post.

If only she had left it at that.  But then she decides to apply Biblical "wisdom" in order to "encourage" her readers.  (It's in the comments.  She actually says she wants to encourage people.)  And here comes the Proverbs 31 woman.  Because figures in Wisdom Literature are clearly "real life" individuals who we should try to model our lives after if we "say" we are Christians. (Quote from the post:  "Many of you readers say you are Christians.")

In her defense she does identify characteristics of the Proverbs 31 woman that every human being can/should aspire to.  We could probably all stand to be more "Diligent, Kind, Meticulous, Caring, Trustworthy, Dependable, Frugal" and "Wise."  And we might even be happier moms with more cooperative kids and less chaos in our lives if we did.

But then it really comes down to the brass tacks.  What she doesn't like about these flagrantly authentic moms is that they "pout all day and claim that we can’t get our housework done and take care of our kids."  Clearly the Proverbs 31 mom would never do that.  She got up early, made meals for her kids and dressed in beautiful fabrics.  In fact, she looks almost exactly like the mom in this post.  Trust me, you would never find these ladies in their jammies at 4 p.m. "cuddling" on their beds with their kids and trying to write a blog post.  (Actually I'm not really sure when the Proverbs 31 mom wrote her blog posts, but I'm sure she had a designated time after the dishes were done and she had taken time for a hot chocolate date with her husband.  Yes, I'm getting snarky.  Yes, I stalked the website a little.)

The bottom line is that the Proverbs 31 woman does not now and never did in the past actually exist. Wisdom literature.  Proverbs creates "individuals" with characteristics that "wise" people can aspire to.  It's not modeled after some famous woman of olden times who practiced management, agriculture, real estate, international trade.... all while running a ship-shape house and cooking nutritious meals.  It's an illustration.  A tool.  And focusing on the characteristics her actions display might suggest that the same characteristics could have different manifestations for different people.  Requiring someone to take regular showers in order to prove that they are caring just doesn't add up in my book.  (Actually the fact that I sometimes manage to display kindness to others in the relative absence of hot showers is pretty amazing to me.)

If you really wanted to compare the life of a virtuous Old Testament wife to a modern one you would need to consider the fact that she lived in very different social circumstances than moms who generally have access to blogs.  She probably lived with extended family and got lots of help with the kids.  She didn't have to decide what food to make - she prepared what was available.  No one ever told her that her marriage was supposed to be emotionally fulfilling.  Maybe the chick was just a lot less tired and stressed than most moms these days.  BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT.  I'll yell again:  I HAVE DIGRESSED.

The point is that sharing the unlovely and frustrating parts of being a parent does not mean that a person is less spiritual.  I would claim that it's a matter of opinion whether this says anything at all about whether they are exhibiting the characteristics displayed in the passage in their everyday lives.  But whether or not any parent keeps their house clean and cooks nutritious meals from scratch for their families?  Using this passage to try to enforce that kind of lifestyle does violence to the passage and is abusive to the people who read it.  Proverbs 31 paints a picture of someone with a full and rich life.  We can all aspire to being as productive and plugged in to our communities as the subject is.  But if we are not - by our own choice or because of the circumstances of our lives - we are not not notnotnotnotnotnot failing IN ANY WAY.

I could dissect the issues with using the Proverbs 31 woman to browbeat tired or discouraged or frustrated moms all day.  But the question is, what did the author of the post expect the reader to take away from her "devotional"?  Here it is, in her own words.  And this is why I could not just let this go:
"I so desire for all of us moms to make the most of this short-time on Earth we call life. We only get to be moms once, and if we mess up, there is no turning back.
I encourage you to read Proverbs 31 and see what a “real Mom” should be."
 Dear, dear friends.  I also hope that you get the most out of life.  Absolutely.  So don't listen to anyone who tells you that parenting is done in one broad stroke and can be messed up irrevocably.  It's just not true.  In my series about being an MK I probably should have pointed out that my parents made changes my senior year in high school so that I wouldn't have to be in the dorm.  They realized that the situation had not been working for me.  They apologized.  They made changes.  They handled the situation differently with my youngest brother than they had with me.  It is possible to turn back.  (Don't want to say they "messed up" but this is a beautiful example of doing it differently when you don't like the way it's going.)

If you want to read Proverbs 31 you should definitely go for it.  But don't feel bad if you decide not to buy a field or plant a vineyard (oh wait, this author doesn't say we need to follow that part of the "instructions.")  I have been following a group of moms online for a while that I find very encouraging.  This is not a "Christian" group, but I love their take on accepting and supporting each other as mothers.  Today is a special day to honor just that goal.  I believe that the Savior who called the short tax collector from a tree and who let the "unclean" prostitute wash his feet would have taken this approach to parenting.  I can just picture him walking into my cluttered living room, somehow finding a spot on the crumb covered carpet, plopping down and having a snuggle with my grouchy, snot filled baby while working on a puzzle with the five-year-old.  That's not in the Bible either, by the way.  I just love the image.

So we can all relax.  This is not The Velveteen Rabbit.  We do not start with bodies full of sawdust and hope that the kisses and traumas of parenting will rub off the shine and leave us with hearts that beat and noses that twitch.  We are all real.  If one mommy's way of keeping her kids safe and fed and tanked up with love includes taking time out to appreciate the humor of the chaotic process, fine.  If another keeps a strict schedule and manages to home school six kids while keeping up with the ironing, fine.  Lets rejoice together and walk beside each other through the hard times and never ever let a Bible passage intended to encourage be used to heap burdens on us.