Upstairs, Downstairs

This poem was written for my former downstairs neighbour and dear friend who has now returned home to Egypt with her husband and children. It was an honour and a joy to share our lives with them, and to find a warm connection that overcame any differences.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!! Peace be with you. May you always be supported, embraced and encouraged by your fellow moms all over the world! Go team! 🙂

 

Upstairs: a crazy crew of kids

six littles bouncing, dancing, singing, banging.

Downstairs: two small sweeties,

running, shouting, playing, laughing.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers scold, cook, cuddle and caress.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers mother

day and night.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women sing

in Arabic and English,

songs of faith and lullabies

unique yet universal,

of one heart.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women weep,

mourn lost babies–

precious ones snatched away too soon–

in each other’s arms

these mothers find warm comfort.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women pray,

observe Lent and Ramadan,

break their fasts and rejoice together

over homemade sweets.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women hope,

cherishing the new lives

nestled in their wombs…

little tiny babies

due at the same time.

May they be best friends!!

 

In the world there is hatred

but not in our house.

Upstairs, downstairs

there is love.

 

Compassion

Let it go, little mamma.

You have deeply entered their pain,

lived it with them,

prayed and suffered.

Their burden is not yours.

You can love

but you cannot hold the whole world

in your heart.

Don’t try to steal God’s job.

Only He, the eternal one,

can bear all the world’s suffering

without breaking to pieces…

Your call now,

is to go dig in your garden

and plant flowers of hope

in the simple brown earth.

Your call is to smile again

and find joy in the little gifts of each day.

Tears have washed you clean.

Now, little mama,

let it go,

trust more,

be silly and laugh again.

Insecurity

There is the illusion

that ‘the woman next door’ has everything figured out–

that the insides of her underwear drawer

are as neat as her perfect front lawn–

illusion of insecurity.

There is the nagging feeling

that you should be more like her,

so confident and productive…

It eats you up inside

until your walls crumble and collapse

into emptiness.

Voices of self-doubt echo

in the hollow chamber of your head:

“Are you sure you’re good enough?

Can you really do this?

What gave you that silly idea?”

You’re tempted to crawl under the covers again

but that’s just where the demons are hiding–

alone in your head.

Instead, throw back those blankets and step into the sun,

don’t give up without a fight,

empty rooms are good for being filled with light.

Empty hands are good for holding little hands.

Empty hearts are good for being filled with love.

Empty heads are good for listening.

So, instead of dwelling alone

in the harsh prison of your self-judgement,

reach out,

be open to other people’s stories,

listen to their hopes and cries of pain.

Everyone has their struggle,

and everyone has their blue flame.

Realize you are not alone

in all your broken beauty…

like them you’re just a tiny little human

entrusted by God

with the great task of love.

Kindred Spirit

It’s been a year since I came to visit you.

It feels far too long,

but I can’t afford to fly to Saskatoon

every time I want to see you

(which is kinda always).

So thank God for the telephone

because speaking with you

gives my spirit wings.

Over my morning coffee,

and your morning tea,

(though several provinces apart)

we share, ponder and discuss

problems and triumphs,

and celebrate our awesome things.

God in all his wild and tender beauty,

feels closer to these little bits of his creation

–two busy moms laughing in their kitchens–

when we are together.

So bosom friend,

enriched by your wisdom and humour,

your sense of adventure and joyful openness to others,

I have treasure enough to fly around the world!

Happy 4th Birthday, Josephine!

Thank you to everyone for making this day special! Your kind words, hugs, prayers, and thoughtful gifts meant so much! I was really happy to see many of you today.

I was especially touched by this beautiful piece commissioned by my friend Rachel and painted by my talented babysitter and art student Michelle. It captures so perfectly the essence of the first poem I wrote for Josephine after she passed away:

Josephine flashed before us

with the brightness and beauty

of a shooting star

Our hearts are broken by the briefness

of her visit with us

She has climbed onto our Father God’s lap

and is whispering to him our secrets

with sweet confidence

Speak to her in your hearts

the only language she will ever know is love

“Open Wide Your Hearts”

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of emotional connection in marriage. Now I’d like to discuss how deep friendships and a wider support network are also an essential element to personal growth and spiritual wellness.

I feel extremely blessed to have many friends who help me grow in various ways. People who are willing to share their passions and talents and help me expand my horizons in so many areas….from fashion to faith, homeschool, writing, healing from grief, forming better habits and growing in virtue, self-care, intellectual openness and more. All of these people help provide the “atmosphere of growth” author Gretchen Rubin claims is an essential part of happiness. They encourage and support me to become a better me, in ways I certainly couldn’t become alone. And I think it’s meant to be this way…that the company of kindred spirits helps one’s unique talents and beauty shine.

In their insightful book, “How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth,” authors of the popular “Boundaries” series, Drs Cloud and Townsend, strongly emphasize the need for vulnerable, authentic connection with others. Rather than promoting an individualistic faith that is between God and the person alone, they present the love of other people as the lifeline between our hearts and God’s. Thus healing from deep wounds requires not only intellectual knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness, but real experiences of the heart. We need to feel His love, and the way we can is through the support and love of other people.

To connect with God’s love, however, we need not only people, but also need our hearts to be available to those people. We have to be open and vulnerable for the grace and acceptance to do any good. Many people “fellowship” with others, but they share so little as they fellowship that nothing happens at the heart level. As Paul told the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding your affection from us. As a fair exchange–I speak to you as my children–open wide your hearts to us also” (2 Cor. 6:11-13). So for growth to occur, it must include experiences where hearts are open with each other. Otherwise, it is just known in someone’s head and never experienced at the levels God has designed. (How People Grow, p.128)

I think we can all relate to the power of a really good “heart to heart” chat with a close friend. Such closeness and sharing can make the unbearable seem possible and restore hope. The loving mercy of a friend who encourages us gives us the strength to not give up and the inspiration to try better, while knowing we are already loved exactly as we are. Receiving this kind of grace requires vulnerability and courage, and can’t be had by hiding and pretending we have it all together.

The point here is that grace can be available to us, but we might not be available to grace. We can be around a lot of acceptance and grace, but until the hurt and guilty places of our heart are exposed, we do not experience grace, and the gap between our head and heart continues.

To confess one’s greatest failures and sins, and then still be embraced with love and encouragement, is to experience the unconditional nature of God’s love. This kind of mercy has the power to be transformative. Deep suffering can break one’s heart open, but if we allow it be be exposed it to the healing love of trustworthy people who will comfort us, it can enable us to grow.

When we lost our baby Josephine, we were immensely supported. We could feel ourselves being held up by the prayers of friends, loved ones, and even strangers who heard our story. We experienced the emotional equivalent of a train wreck, but we got up and kept walking. This is not because of our strength, but because of our acceptance of our weakness…we weren’t afraid to lean hard on others so they could help us up again. To me this was a kind of miracle–a sign of God’s love–lavished on us by so many of His children, all participating in one way or another in the communion of the saints. By this I mean not a club for the ‘saintly’ but a vast family of imperfect people struggling to live with hope and love even in the midst of tragedy.

We experienced this all grace because we were open to it…when in pain my natural tendency is to reach out. Some people shut down and hide. It is hard for the warmth of affection to reach them. Recovery can be much slower, and on top of that, hidden wounds are very lonely.

A dear friend told me once she thought I was brave to be so vulnerable at Josephine’s funeral, letting tears fall as we carried her tiny coffin out of the packed church. Honestly, though, I simply couldn’t help it, but exposing my raw grief enabled others to reach out and comfort me. I could receive their love, and my heart could start to be healed, even as it lay broken and shattered.

I hadn’t really meant to go into all this, but I guess my point is, whatever your suffering, don’t try to do it alone. Let God love you by letting others wrap their arms around you so you can feel His nearness. Stop hiding your face under a protective veneer of pretense, as if huddling under a dark umbrella. Throw it aside and let the rain of grace pour over you and wash away your tears. And with your hands now free, reach out and hold the hands reaching towards you.

K.I.S.S…keep it simple, sweetheart!

Sometimes as a mom it can be easy to get drawn in a million directions, until you find yourself stretched thin, as Bilbo Baggins says, like butter spread over too much toast. It could be million good things…family, friends, hobbies, writing, work, reaching out to those in need…all things you’re passionate about, but–when added up–require more than you can reasonably give.

When this happens my mother-in-law, who happily is a great friend, reminds me to K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart (or stupid…whatever works!). Time to step back, re-evaluate priorities, and see how things can be simplified so the most important things don’t suffer. What really matters most? Which things are too important to mess up? As my friend Monique told her teenage son when he was feeling overwhelmed: “You can’t do everything well. You can do a few things well or everything badly.”

It’s hard to step back from the frenzy of constant multitasking to quietly reflect. But it is also essential. Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. Can we really say that we are living intentionally, that is with passion and purpose, if we don’t periodically stop to reflect on life?


This rhythm of action, rest, and reflection can help bring more harmony to our lives and help us to be more present to the around us who matter most. This is why we need a special day each week to rest, pray and play (and not just soccer tournaments!). But we also need these moments every day. Tiny moments to gather ourselves and be recollected, so we can better face the chaos. I’m primarily writing this for myself. The other day I was texting two separate people at the same time while looking up something online and feeding my baby. Crazy…

In a recent talk I watched (in an online conference for moms) by a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, the speaker said that one of the things that drains our willpower and saps our strength (besides lack of sleep) is making many decisions.. . This could be in tricky meetings, in navigating traffic, making dinner while juggling kids, or even the many tiny decisions of how and when to respond to the beeps and bells on our phone. So I’m pretty sure that constant multitasking, and all the decision-making it involves, is something that drains our will power and makes us susceptible to impatience and exhaustion. This does not help us be the best mom, spouse, friend etc, we can be.

Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson said there are a few things studies have found will restore our will power, and recharge it like a battery pack getting plugged in. These things make us more able to calmly cope with life’s challenges. These were:

1. Sleep (I’ve heard of it…😉) Without sufficient sleep our will power is seriously compromised. Rather than trying to ruthlessly carry on, Dr. Susan recommends becoming a “sleep-seeking missile.” Get a nap in or get to bed ASAP. So many emotional struggles are simply signs of sleep deprivation. 
2.Temporal, sensory contact with friends…that is social time that is face to face or at least on the phone to hear a friendly voice and get an immediate response to our words. Online interaction doesn’t have this restorative function. 
3. Meditation. Even 3-5 minutes of quiet, deep breathing. In your office…or even bathroom (till the hoards of toddlers find you!) or on a walk outside.
4. Prayer. Brain scans show our bio-rhythms become more calm and we are better able to cope.
5. Gratitude. Make a little list of things you’re grateful for. Take a moment to reflect and give thanks.
6. Acts of service. Doing things for others out of love. Freely making efforts to help another person be happy, instead of feeling sorry for yourself. Trying to do your duties cheerfully. 

If we find ourselves too busy for these things…for taking care of our own need for sleep, prayer and friendship, we should realize we are too busy and that something has to go, for our sake and that of those we love most, who may be getting the short end of the stick. We need to take care of ourselves, or we will run out of fuel to take care of others. This means even finding moments for our passions and hobbies. Things that take us outside of time and make us forget everything else…dance, writing, skating, playing music or whatever makes you really happy. Dr. Susan referred to these kinds of activities as “flow:” things that make you feel like a kid again for a moment, and let everything else fade away, even just for a short time.


So stop, reflect, be grateful, and see what you can let go of so you have more time to play. And with a joyful heart you’ll also be better able to serve and to love.

Post-Partum, “Femachoism” and the Need for Mom Buddies

A buddy and I were chatting tonight about motherhood and vulnerability, and how tough it is to get some some women to open up about how they’re really doing, for example after having a new baby. There seems to be, especially among women who are hoping to have multiple children, a feeling that they need to pretend it’s easy…like “Of course it’s great! Otherwise why would I do this again? I don’t look crazy…do I?” And these kind of sentiments shove any post-partum struggles way down out of sight.

Sometimes, in hopes of attracting others to motherhood, moms will put on a brave face and only present the good. But this is a bit like trying to recruit future Olympic athletes by pretending that it’s a cake walk. Not effective because it’s not authentic. It is better to admit the difficulty and affirm that it’s worth it. As G.K. Chesterton insisted, a mother’s task is challenging not because it is minute or unimportant, but because it is gigantic.

Where does the pressure to pretend that one of the most physically and emotionally challenging life experiences– new parenthood– is a smooth ride, come from? It’s part of what I like to call ‘femachosim’–the tendency to be competitive about motherhood, and to shy away from admitting any vulnerability or suffering which would seem to indicate weakness. There is an underlying insecurity in this attitude…a fear of being told their suffering is their fault, and that they shouldn’t have wasted their time having kids. These kinds of things do get said.

In an essay in the anthology “Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood,” I discuss this devaluation of motherhood and femininity in general. I question the validity of a feminism which looks down on the intrinsically feminine power of bearing and nurturing children, and only values professions that have typically been done by men.

A friend of mine who recently returned from maternity leave has heard comments at her workplace like, “being a stay-at-home mom is for lazy, lost losers.” This attitude can make new moms feel parenting should at least be an easy ride and not a challenge. “How hard can it be? It’s just changing diapers…right?” So they hide their struggles.

The fact is that motherhood is extremely hard, besides being beautiful and rewarding, but that we moms choose it anyway. We choose the sleepless nights, the intensity of labour, the vulnerability of having our hearts walk around outside of ourselves in tiny little bodies we are totally responsible for. It’s overwhelming and exhausting and challenges every fibre of our being. And we choose it anyway. We choose to love. We choose to give of ourselves constantly. We choose to have enough hope in our world to believe that life is worth living and worth sharing. We don’t choose it because it’s comfortable. We choose it because it’s transformative. If that’s lazy I need a new dictionary, because I can’t imagine how those things are at all connected.

So you new moms out there, if you’re struggling, reach out. Don’t suffer alone and isolate yourself, for fear of not being a super mom. I saw a great t-shirt tonight that said, “World’s Okayest Mom.” It made me laugh so hard! None of us are perfect. But we’re in this together, and it’s a lot more fun that way. Spend time with other moms. “Waste” time visiting over coffee. The laughter and conversation you have there can save you hundreds at a therapist later!

Many people suffer from post-partum depression for a time after birthing, and there is help. A good place to start is postpartum.org, which also has great materials for your spouse to read. Your hormones are raging and sleep is a distant dream…so don’t beat yourself up if that takes a toll. Reach out. Talk to your doctor. Talk to friends who are supportive. Take steps to get help. And don’t be afraid to ask for it. Lean on others, so they can one day lean on you. That’s what friendship is. It enriches life so deeply.

With a support network of mom buddies, your life with kids is really awesome, despite the difficulties…there are so much opportunites to share, grow and love together. So next time someone asks how you are, think twice before you pop out “Fine.” Your honesty might open the gate for the other women around to share their struggles and find the support they really need as well. How rewarding is that?

Happy Mother’s Day!

I was so touched to receive this thoughtful little gift, a bag of candies with this lovely quote from a friend of mine. She is very a unassuming and gentle person, but full of warmth and sweetness. She found time, while caring for and homeschooling her 10 kids, to make me this. I think her actions confirm the quote!
 
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers out there, whether your children are big or small, clambering all over you like squirrels or calling long distance. 

A special hug and prayer for all mothers who have lost children, or who haven’t been able to have any…at least ones staying with them on earth. You desire to love and give yourself to others makes your heart just as much a mother’s heart as mine. May God bless you!  

Above all, let’s remember that with all its joys and challenges, motherhood is a gift…we have been entrusted with the care of amazing little people…may we rejoice in that and be confident that with grace, we can be the mothers we are meant to be, despite all our imperfections. So today let’s not compare ourselves or see how we measure up…let’s celebrate all mothers and encourage each other to keep loving our families with all our hearts!