Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happy Birthday, Ben! You're FIVE!

Dear Ben,

I love you SO MUCH!!!  You drive me nuts some of the time, but you are always ready to come back with a kiss and a cuddle, and snuggle in to be forgiven.  And I have to ask you to forgive me a lot too, for yelling and getting impatient, and you always say, “I forgive you, Mama,” and cuddle in close.

I have been so proud of you this year, Ben.  It’s not easy being a younger brother, and you have persevered in learning to play well with Will and expressing in words when you’re feeling frustrated and left out, instead of hitting or lashing out.  Your words will be the thing that saves you, if you learn to use them well.

When Will started school last month, I saw you blossom at home.  You started being more responsible to get dressed and make your bed in the mornings without being asked; you are playing well with Ruby and helping her kindly; and you are happily sitting up at the table with me for school-time and working so hard at your letters and numbers.  Way to go, Ben!  You are even starting to learn to read with our 100 Lessons book, and as long as I can keep you moving and hopping, you concentrate and finish the lesson.  Woohoo!

You love to move: basketball, soccer, rugby, cricket, tag, climbing trees, running, jumping, somersaults, gymnastic tricks, tricks on the swing, the ropes, the play-hut… you are a blur of motion!  And you are strong and coordinated and brave to push yourself to try new things.  It’s awesome to watch!


Then, every afternoon, my favorite time of day with you is when we cuddle up together in your bed and I read you stories.  You have an insatiable appetite for stories, and you absorb them like a thumb-sucking sponge.  The rest of the day I hear you weaving your own stories with your brother and sister, or by yourself, out of all the bits and pieces you remember.  It’s amazing what you remember, and your imagination is beautiful to watch and listen to.  Never stop telling and acting out and reading and writing and living stories, Ben.   It’s what you were made to do.  

You are the perfect guy to be right in the middle of our family.  You help Will to imagine fun games, and you are compassionate and expressive towards Ruby.  She really looks up to you - she copies everything you do and say, including your attitudes… So we really need to keep working on your bad habit of sulking and pouting when you don’t get your way, huh?  Because now Ruby’s starting to do it, too.  Uh-oh, right?

But we know Jesus is living in your heart, we know you trusted Him as your Savior and Lord when you were 3, and every day we see Him rescuing you from your sin and filling you up with the fruit of His Spirit - love, gentleness, kindness, self-control.  You have his JOY in full measure - it bubbles out of you and makes the rest of us so happy!  You are a bright spot in our family and on our street, and you will be a shining light for Jesus in this dark world, Ben.

I love you SOOOOOOOO much!  Mm-MMM!  

Happy Birthday to our big, cuddly, 5-year-old 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

when listening really counts {October Lessons in Listening}

{MOne Word for 2014 is "listen".  I'm posting every month with a new lesson or thought - you can read  the rest of my thoughts on listening here.}

The Skype call sound rings from my laptop.  Familiar, friendly voices float out of my speaker, women who are also wives and moms living overseas like me.  We have a good, challenging conversation.  There is give and take.  I ask as many questions as I answer.  I share thoughtful and sometimes even humorous anecdotes, but I'm careful not to go on too long.  I try not to interrupt, to let whoever’s talking have their whole say.  I try to convey my point of view in a sensitive way, especially if it differs from the others’.  I listen.  Intentionally.  Deeply.  Attentively.  Inside I feel calm, aware, settled.  

While we’re chatting I think to myself,This is a far cry from how I would have felt and acted in a similar situation nine months ago, before I started this experiment in listeningI would’ve pushed my own agenda, felt an overwhelming urge to talk about myself, felt awkward during any silence, uncomfortable leaving space for others to think and respond…  

After the call, I feel gratified.  Satisfied.  Encouraged.  I’m growing!  I’m really learning this listening thing!  

A little while later, it’s lunchtime.  My husband comes home from work.  He tries to tell me about his morning; I’m distracted, getting the kids fed.  He attempts to relay a telephone conversation he’s had; I “mm-hmm” without really paying attention.  After the kids run off to play and we linger over our usual mid-day cups of tea, he starts expressing some pieces of the stress he’s currently feeling; I’m checking Facebook on my phone, mind elsewhere, not paying attention.  

Finally, my usually mild-mannered hubby lets me have it.  “Boy, for someone who talks a lot and wants to be listened to, and gets mad if I even start moving away during a conversation, you sure don’t listen very well!  And I’m supposed to be the one who doesn’t talk very much!”


I looked up with shocked face.  My phone went face down on the table.  Believe me, I started listening.

But it was too late.  The moment had passed.  Lunchtime over, my best friend went back to work, feeling unheard, alone, and probably unloved.  I had failed to listen, and I rued it the rest of the day.

This month I have learned another valuable lesson.  While the things I’m learning about listening might be penetrating my outer “public” layer, I still have a long way to go to allow these changes to reach my inner “home” layer - the arena where change really counts.  If the most important relationship in my life doesn’t feel listened to, if I can’t enter his world with real attention and interest, see life from his perspective, what - really - is all this “learning to listen” about? 

This is where the rubber meets the road.  Will I, can I, learn to listen to the most familiar voices in my life with fresh ears, fresh attention, fresh love?  Or will these lessons in listening remain just an external shift in how I present myself in a group, a needed self-restraint from a temptation to monologue, a healthy exercise in compassion?

It’s crunch time.  Stay tuned.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy 2nd Birthday, Ruby Grace!

Happy, happy Birthday to my sweet, sweetie-pie!  

When you were in my tummy, I SO hoped you would be a girl.  I thought it would be fun to have a daughter after two sons, but I didn’t know it would be THIS much fun!  I love every single thing about you: the way your eyes crinkle when you smile, your chubby kissable cheeks, your sweet little voice, your infectious giggle, your spunkiness, your tender-heartedness that wants to kiss and cuddle anyone who’s hurt or crying, your eagerness to help me with anything I’m doing… “Doing, Mama?  Doing?  Hep me?”   

It warms my heart every time you push a chair up to the counter to “help” wash the dishes, or stir batter, or poke your fingers into bread dough.  You like to hand me the wet clothes from the basket while I’m hanging them up, and take the dry ones from me to put in the basket.  “Hep me, Mama, yaundry.”  You help me straighten the blankets on my bed, too, and “Tie up!” (tidy up) your room and your toys.  You are SO much more interested in all of this than the boys ever were!  It’s wonderful!  

Your latest new thing is your “BCB’s”.  Ben has started learning to write his alphabet letters, and you demand to sit right beside him and do your “BCB book” too.  You make tiny little “O’s” all over the paper and say, “Yook, Mommy!  BCB’s!”  One morning I was journaling in bed and you woke up early so Daddy brought you in to cuddle in our bed.  As soon as you saw me writing, you started asking, “Doing, Mama?  Witing?  Me, Mama?  BCB’s too?” When I wouldn’t give you a turn with my pen, you started kissing my glasses, over and over… 

You’re Daddy’s girl, that’s for sure.  Whenever you sit still long enough to let me do your hair, after I’m done you pop up saying, “Dad-dy?  Dad-dy?  Yook, Dad-dy!” and run to wherever he is.  You preen and twirl and he always tells you how beautiful you look - it seems to matter so much more what he thinks than what I think, and that is just fine by me!    

I love how you like to play tea party with me (just like I hoped!).  We make your bed into a “house” by putting your blanket over the top, and we crawl in there together and set up your doll and teddy bear. You are a great little hostess, offering “moah tea?”, pouring out tea for both of us, asking if I want “muk?” and “shoogah?” and then stirring something up and saying, “Cake?” 

I love how you cuddle your dolls and stuffed animals and put them to bed and kiss their owies.  But you also love playing “Tahguh Tickuw” (Tiger Tickle) with your brothers, and playing with their cars, trains, LEGOS, and anything else you can get your hands on!  

You really have a compassionate spirit.  When we took care of our various pets this year, you were the one who always remembered it was time to feed them in the mornings, and made sure they had blankets so they didn't get cold.  You smothered them with cuddles, and were so gentle.  Maybe you'll be a nurse or a doctor or veterinarian - or mommy - one day...

You ask for your favorite songs every single naptime and bedtime - “Happy Cap Cap” (If You’re Happy and You Know It) and “Joy Joy Joy” (Down in My Heart).  You do all the motions and say all the words in the right places and grin at me the whole time.  It’s completely adorable.

You’re starting to pray at mealtimes: “Deah Jee-judge.. (moment of silence)… ey - MEN!” and at bedtime you’re starting to listen to stories about Him.  You’re beginning to learn how wonderful He is, and I can’t wait to teach you about Him and watch you come to know Him for yourself. 

You’re great at interacting with our local friends here - you say “Ashalom” (Assalam Aleykum) to my helper when she arrives, with a little inclination of your head and your hand over your heart.  She just melts!  All our neighbors love you and call you “Rubeeshka”, the Russian affectionate nickname, whenever we go out for a walk.  And you regularly ask about our best friends down the street by name: “Noda come howoos?” (come to our house)  She came to your birthday lunch and you were so thrilled to share your “Cake” with her.  

You have so many words now.  I loved how you talked over your birthday tonight before you went to sleep.  “Wooby birfday?  New trike?  Cake?  Boys?  B’lloon?  Gamma Skype?  Noda came?  Cake?”  This morning I softly came into your room singing a quiet “Happy Birthday to you…”  You were lying down on your blanket, but when you saw me you quickly sat bolt upright and said, “Cake?”

As you approached this birthday, you started saying “Shelf!  Shelf!” (self) all the time.  You really want to try things on your own: putting on tights (how’d that work out for ya?), reaching for your toothbrush, cutting your own pancake, putting away your stack of clean clothes.  (Yeah, just shove ‘em in there!)  You are so independent and already quite competent for such a little person - a force to be reckoned with!  

Yes, you are your mother’s daughter - verbal, stubborn, endearing, relational, affectionate, possessive, lovable, independent, spunky, cuddly, obstinate, winsome.  We love every minute with you, our precious little jewel,

Ruby Grace

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

wholly listening and holy listening {August thoughts on listening, Part 2}

{I'm focusing on the word "listen" as my One Word for 2014.  This is Part 2 of my August thoughts on listening... You can read Part 1 here, and the rest of my thoughts on listening here.}

So, as you already know, I’m a mother.  Every day.  And if you’ve been reading along in this series of posts, you’ll know I’m discovering afresh that a mother is also a mentor.  Every day.  

Each one of us, whether we realize it or not, is a mentor.  We each have people in our lives who are looking up to us, whether we’re aware of it or not. If you have an online presence, you are almost definitely a mentor to someone, or many someones.  If you are a parent, well, it's obvious who your little mentorees are. If you’re a part of a church family, no matter how young you are there are people younger than you who are following your example.  

So.  This is big stuff.

Yesterday at nap time I snuggled down to continue this book on Spiritual Mentoring I'm reading for a leadership course I’m doing through our organization, and I stumbled upon yet another eye-opening list.  Are you ready?  

This one's titled “The Three Essential Functions” of the mentor. They jumped off the page at me:

Holy Listening

Holy Seeing 

and Wholly Listening.

Not kidding.  I read those words, and I literally laughed out loud.  (Just in case I was still wondering why God had me pick “listen” as my word for 2014 - no further doubt!)  

Curious to know what the authors mean by those phrases?  

So was I.  They define holy listening as “giving attention, developing companionship, enjoying friendship, traveling the road together with the mentoree aware of the Holy Spirit in all places.”  In other words, listening to life “on the way”.  

Holy seeing is “observing the other with love, compassion, genuine care, concern and interest in the development of the mentoree.”

Wholly listening is “being fully and authentically present to the spiritual seeker and the Holy Spirit, daring the courage of a vulnerability that appropriately self-discloses to the mentor, a vulnerability in which all of me listens to all of you.”

Did you catch that whammy of a last line?  “Daring the courage of a vulnerability that appropriately self-discloses…a vulnerability in which all of me listens to all of you.”  

Wow.  Talk about a lesson in listening.

I don't know about you, but I'm not seeing much of the Messiah or Problem-Solver cropping up in these definitions, are you?  No active verbs like “wisdom-dispensing” or “problem-solving” or “rescuing” - all the things I like to think I’m good at and enjoy doing.  (After all, who doesn’t like feeling like a Super-Hero, even if it’s an illusion?)  

The verbs in that list are gentle:  Observe.  Be present.  Be vulnerable.  Even “appropriate self-disclosure”, the most active verb in the list, requires being vulnerable, which brings us back to being, not doing. 

The authors say that when someone is able to listen wholly, with all of themselves attuning to all of the other person, holy listening occurs.  In other words, in that moment, we see God together.  We glimpse Him, together, in the stories, moments, themes and patterns of our friend’s life.  

Listening is a holy practice in which people wholly attend to one another, and in the process discover the whole presence of God in that very moment.  In connecting with God, we become more whole ourselves, and more in tune with our lives and the purposes God has for us.

In the film Waking Life by Richard Linklater, there is a scene in which two artists, filmmaker Caveh Zahedi and poet David Jewell, discuss the idea of a “holy moment”.  Zahedi is talking about the fact that we usually walk around as if some moments are holy and other moments are not holy, and the medium of film is able to frame ordinary moments in a way that lets us see the holiness of each and every moment.  

Zahedi says, “And it’s like "Holy, holy, holy" moment by moment.  But, like, who can live that way? Who can go, like, ‘Wow, holy’? Because if I were to look at you and just really let you be holy, I don't know, I would, like, stop talking.”
“Well, you'd be in the moment. I mean ….” says David Jewell.
“The moment is holy.”
“Yeah, but I'd be open,” says Zahedi.  “And then I'd look in your eyes, and I'd cry, and I'd like feel all this stuff and that's like not polite. I mean it would make you feel uncomfortable.”
“Well you could laugh too. I mean, why would you cry?”
“Well, 'cause ... I don't know. For me, I tend to cry.”
“Uh-huh. Well ..."
“Well, let's do it right now. Let's have a holy moment.”
They pause in the middle of their conversation and look at each other for a long moment, allowing the moment to fill up with presence, each allowing the wholeness of himself to be fully present to the other person’s self.  And both of their eyes - ours too, watching - fill up with tears. 
Finally, as if the holiness has to be broken with words lest it become unbearable, Jewell remarks, “Everything is layers, isn't it?”
“Yeah,” agrees Zahedi.
“I mean, there's the holy moment and then there's the awareness of trying to have the holy moment, in the same way that the film is the actual moment really happening, but then the character pretending to be in a different reality. And it's all these layers. And, uh, I was in and out of the holy moment looking at you. Can't be in a holy ... You're unique that way, Caveh. That's one of the reasons I enjoy you. You can ... bring me into that.”
The “that” David Jewell is trying to describe is the awareness of holiness which emerges when two people wholly attend to one another.  God is always here.  It’s when we pay attention that we finally see Him.

When I am conversing with another human being, made in the image of God, are my shoes off?  Am I wholly listening, so that I can practice holy listening?

What about when my kids want to talk to me?  Do I fully enter into their reality, slowing down, bending my knees to reach eye-level, putting an arm around their small shoulders, turning to look at life with them from their perspective?  

Am I attending to the lives around me with every atom of myself?  

Rather than being exhausting, this kind of focused awareness is centering.  Freeing.  Living in the moment is restful, not frantic.  


Because God is in the moment, with you.  With us.  

God is here.  Now.  

Take a deep breath, and breathe Him in.  

Now, listen...  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

the four opposites of true listening {August thoughts on listening, Part 1}

{This year I'm focusing on one word: listen.  My next two posts, August thoughts on listening Parts 1 & 2, were inspired by a fantastic book I recently read and reviewed.  To read the rest of my posts on listening, click here...}

In a recent post I described my latest epiphany from this great book I’m reading on Spiritual Mentoring. My epiphany was - ready for it? - that spiritual mentoring applies to mothering as well. (Big surprise, right?)  And that I already have three little mentorees running around whose souls I’ve been called to build!  Yikes!  So I'm on board with everything I can learn about this thing called mentoring, especially as it connects with my word for 2014: listen.

The more deeply I travel into this book the more things are hitting home.  This week, a friend’s comment about weaknesses coincided with a quote I had just read about how we approach relationships.  

In her email, my friend said she was finding that “allowing God to uncover her weaknesses led to peace and freedom in her life.”  Being honest about her own short-comings, not just to herself but in front of other people, is freeing her to not be perfect.  

I’ve said it before: I like looking like I have my act together.  Vulnerability, showing my weaknesses, does not come easily or naturally to me.  I want peace and freedom just as much as the next person, but to get to that place by showing you my messy?  Just doesn’t appeal to me.

Here’s a list from Spiritual Mentoring of four things a mentor should not be.  As I read down the list for the first time, my eyes grew wide, because I realized uncomfortably that every one of these things has at some point been a hidden motivation for me:  

Four Major Pitfalls for the Spiritual Mentor to Avoid

The Messiah Complex: I believe I am to rescue you or deliver you from the struggles and pain of your life.

The Problem-Solver Mentality: I believe my role is to tell you what the right answers are or to offer a way out for you.

The Assembly-Line Syndrome: I believe my role is to shape you into a predetermined form or product.

The Wisdom Dispenser Approach: I believe I must dispense wisdom-on-demand every time I [talk with you], because I am a fountain of wisdom and truth.

The authors go on to say that “when a mentor becomes messiah, problem-solver, assembly-line worker or wisdom-dispenser, the opportunity for spiritual formation can become limited.  A mentor is none of these four, though problem solving, wisdom and answers may be part of the unfolding process.  Discernment is the pearl of great price for the mentor.  Attaining discernment requires vulnerability, humility and an ear open to listen to the voice of God’s spirit.”  (Spiritual Mentoring, Anderson/Reese, emphasis added)

Did you catch that?  Discernment is the pearl of great price in mature relationships, and attaining it requires vulnerability and humility, and an ear open to listen. 

Hmmm… listen.  My word for this year.  Coincidence?  

There is a crucial connection between my friend’s email and this quote in the book.  Did you catch it? My friend described her road to peace and freedom through allowing God to uncover her weaknesses.  None of those four mis-guided roles or motivations in relationships contain either vulnerability or humility.  The Messiah wants to save out of her own strength; the Problem-Solver wants to have all the answers; the Assembly-Line Supervisor thinks she already knows the plan; and the Wisdom-Dispenser wants everyone to think she’s incredibly wise and has her act together all the time.  

I’m realizing that, to my shame, I have often been happy to wear one of those misguided hats in a relationship rather than seek the humility and embrace the vulnerability necessary to discover true discernment - which is, ultimately, the only thing my friend really needs from me.  She needs me to listen to her, to enter in to her situation, and to hear from God with her and for her in order to find out what He wants her to do.  

That’s all.  

I don’t have to be God.  

I just have to listen to God, and listen to my friend.  

That’s it.  That’s the way to peace, and freedom.

To be continued…