Monday, March 14, 2016

Just Keep Choosing Love

It must be a season for throwing myself into new ventures, because I've just acquired my first parenting book: Calm Parents, Happy Kids. This is not in search of an answer to a particular complaint, but mainly out of interest, curiosity, and knowing I will surely find some much needed nuggets of gold in there.

Dr. Laura Markham, the author, came to my aid when I was wondering how to negotiate my days with my strong-willed first born. I think her brother is outdoing her already, so it will be good counsel to remember and reuse a little further down the line...

After coming across her article online some months ago, I thought I'd give her book a try. My reading window of opportunity presents itself at night, so I'm not sure I've retained everything, but 30 pages into the book, I was stopped in my tracks;

when you're feeling overwhelmed: just keep choosing love

It seems trivial. Commonsense.

You love them with an unquantifiable, deep-running unshakable love.
You want the best for them, and want to offer them your best.
Not what's left.

But in those moments, when all your buttons are being pushed and you're running on little sleep.
In those moments, when if only they'd listened to you it could have been avoided, again.
In those moments, when they shout out ungrateful comments when you've spent all morning tending to their needs.
In those moments, they are the enemy.

In those moments; just keep choosing love.

In those moments, as far as I'm concerned, choosing love and kindness goes against all reasonable thought and self-righteous feelings of fury. 
But even if they were the enemy, doesn't Jesus turn it on its head and says to love our enemies?

Yes indeed: "Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as Your father is merciful."

There is no way around this one.

Herein lies the key. Is life not made up of choices? At the core, Dr Markham says, every choice is between love and fear. Your life is the sum of your choices.

Such profundity in four simple words. Don't just choose love. Keep choosing love.

Present continuous. I must exercise this discipline of keeping on choosing love.
And I know that this means several times a day, every day of the week.

With my kids.
My spouse.
My neighbours.
My friends.

Keep on choosing love.

That might look like letting the kids be free to play with their playdough, and not fearing the spread of mess on/under the table nor the lengthy cleanup that will inevitably ensue. Not to mention the forlorn bits that still find their way on your socks a few days later.
That might look like choosing not to react harshly or defensively to my other half.
That might look like leaving the laundry til later and enjoying a cup of tea.
That might look like just wiping a spilled glass of water from the table top, with no disparaging comments.

Being harsh out of fear will never promote peace or intimate connections.
Fear cannot yield good fruit.
Fear constricts and stifles.

Wasn't it that "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love."?

If every choice is between love and fear, or indeed life and death, let me choose love. Again and again.

Faithful shepherd of my soul
Only through you can I be made whole.
Let me hear the pulse of Your passion,
That mine may beat in harmony
Because You first loved me.

Let not my heart be hardened out of fear, 
Continue to soften me, 
Holy Spirit inhabit me.

You came to reconcile us to one another
And to the Father.
Unwearied is Your love;
Perfect me in Your love.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Paintbrush Revolution

I owe it all to my good friend Claire, and a video she sent me last winter.

It used to be that the dolls that made an appearance in our home eventually "went on a long holiday". It wasn't a solution I was happy with, but this was for lack of a better idea. 

I don't meander the doll aisles all that often, but a quick glance has often been enough to put me off, to put it mildly. The "iconic Barbie" (which I have seen is now getting body shape and colour changes!) and its cousins weren't really something I wanted my girls (and boy!) to relate to or in any way want to emulate. But lo and behold, when I saw that it was possible to change these little creatures into more real and familiar looking friends, I knew this was my cue. I finally had my answer.

We had no dolls in the house anymore, but Finland being a country rich in second hand shops and flea markets I knew this was an endeavor I could throw myself into wholeheartedly! Venturing out into totally unknown territory I acquired all the materials necessary for the task at hand and set out to reconcile myself to the world of dolls and redeem it for my three little saplings. 

My girls were involved from the start, which sparked many a good conversations - with them, our friends, their teachers and friends at playgroup. I learned a new trick with every doll I repainted, and as they underwent the test of time, it became apparent that they would need a final coat of varnish to ensure the paint wasn't going to chip away. My kids helped greatly in making the experiment as genuine as possible; the dolls weren't politely stood on my workshop table.

My mother-in-law has been happily knitting clothes for the dolls, and I've arrived at a place where I'm happy with the results (though being a perfectionist doesn't give me much lenience).

I feel I still have a lot of ground to cover, but I've been so encouraged and had so many good conversations with many other parents, and even have a few keen prospective buyers too!

So, I'll be checking in again as I progress into this new world of opportunity! 

To be continued...

My ears are currently seduced by: Covenhoven - The Wild And Free

Monday, October 26, 2015

Summer Greens & Autumn Browns


Monday, October 12, 2015

When Life Takes Flight

It's in the news. A mother and two children. Two cars and a truck involved, a gut-wrenching scenario. It's where we used to live.

Call her up quickly and check she's ok, he says. 
Our hearts feel heavy, our stomachs knotty. 

She picks up.

- We just read about the accident... Are you ok?
- No

My heart sinks, I feel physically sick.

- The twins, both of them. They died.

11 years on this earth. 

Those who from one seed became two. Grew together in you, and made your womb swell with hopes and expectations. Those who you nursed through the long nights. Those you watched reach every milestone. 

Those whose hearts your heard racing on the Doppler, and whose beat you will hear no more.

Those whose cheeks you kissed, hearts you consoled - those bruises and cuts you could always fix with a kiss, a plaster...

Those you got mad with. Those who you laughed with and cried over. Those you held. Those who carried the hopes and exuberance of boyhood. Those who filled up the house and left a mess in their wake. 

Yesterday's clothes, left lying. Never to be filled again. 
Their beds, undone and empty. Never again to lie next to them, or feel their warmth through the sheets. 

Those everyday, tedious things that tired you out, those things we only realise are irreplaceable once they are no more.

Those two boys, who would carry on the family name. Their pictures hang, but their faces will never age. 

A loss unimaginable. A loss unthinkable. And yet it looks you square in the eye, unflinchingly.

A matter of minute details, all leading to this cacophony.

Those young bodies, your beautiful boys, lifeless. Those you pushed and laboured over. Watching them being lowered, the earth burying their sight; stones erected in their stead. 

Your daughter asking questions when you haven't found words for your own.

How could it be? To what greater good? Is there always purpose in pain?

The emptiness. 
The screaming silence. 
The well intentioned words of condolence. 
The hollow reality that nothing will shake. 

I pray a spark of hope beyond reason would meet you half way.

If there's anything He knows, it is the loss of His son. Watching him bruised beyond recognition. The aching pain of separation. But also the surpassing joy of resurrection; everything made new, never to be broken or marred again.

Even though the winds howl and the crashing waves are unrelenting, they know His voice. 
He speaks in your storm, and He mourns with you.
Against all odds - by God's immeasurable grace - I pray this doesn't break you beyond repair. That you three who are left behind can be built back up and be made whole...

I realise life is a delicate, precious gift to be so very much treasured
And then some.
Nothing less. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Leaf In Our Book

Sometimes life rolls, 
Sometimes it spills.
For too long it stood still.
I have hid;
"Maybe this will pass"
But not before the ink 
Of my neat script blurs
With streams of unspoken words.

A leaf in our book will turn
But not without a tare.
If I could read between the lines
'Til I found myself in joyful prose
But You speak in the pain.
And though I still cannot reason
Why the black and white print turned sour
I trust the good that You hold for the days to come.  
I trust that You will cradle the aching heart
And allow little minds and hearts to understand.

How easily I chase after the wind,
How easily I misplace my affections 
And store up earthly treasures.
Fasten my heart to Yours
And may Your will be done.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Home, for now

For the first time in my near 7 years of living in Finland I feel like it makes sense, in this stage of life, to stay and "settle"  here. Not only that it makes sense, but that it is good.

We have sometimes spoken of moving abroad.


I have always been envious of people "going back home", after a stint in Finland. And to be honest, I long (and will always long) for those Swiss mountains and that lift and perspective they offer. I miss that proximity to the rest of Europe and that more "southern" way of living... I miss my family and long-standing friendships!

But, I have also come to realise, with a quiet and humble confidence, that we have it so good here in Finland, too. There aren't any mountains (at least not in the South), but it's not hard to stumble upon God's good nature pretty much anywhere you live (with lakes and the wild sea thrown into the package). The architecture can be lacking in town planning, but there's quite a few beautiful cities and towns spotted around the country, and Helsinki itself is hard to beat.

We would not have this lifestyle anywhere else. I get to be at home with my three little ones and spend every day of these precious new beginnings with them. I could be in the location my heart beats for, but have a very different looking life. And I'm not sure that's something worth compromising. Speaking of the kids, they're growing up to be trilingual. What an asset! and a gift, to be able to cultivate thought and speech in three different cultural spheres and languages. 

We could live in a place where I feel more culturally comfortable (linguistically speaking especially), but Finland (though of course has its share of problems!) is really miles behind other places we could move to. It has a sort of innocence and wholesomeness about it still; in many ways it is a good place to bring up a family. And I want to make sure I enjoy the here and the now, and am not constantly projecting myself into a different space. Moving countries can always happen at a later date, but home is here now. And it is good.

The beauty of all this, I think, lies in the timing of this peace. In the upheaval and exhaustion of having to up and go, and make a new house our home at the start of September, there is this quiet constant pulse-like beat, reminding me that God is in this, too. That right now, though emotions (and temper) are a little all over the place in counting the cost of having to move, this is a good place to be, a place to be thankful for. In the rough, there is still reason to praise God.

My ears are currently seduced by: Brandon Heath - Behold Our God

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A Sandwich Never Spoke So Loud

My two girls; a perfect personification on a plate.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Note To Self

My absolute highlight, concerning this smiley face system we've put into place (see June 17th entry), is when we get to put smiley faces back on the fridge because of a kind word, a comforting gesture, a smooth transition, a helpful favour; caught unaware.

That radiating smile on her face makes the whole "system" worth it, a hundred times over.

My ears are currently seduced by: Passenger - Whispers II

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Silky Smooth Playdough

  Two cups of cornstarch.
One cup of hair conditioner.
  Optional food dyes.
Nothing better for a rainy Midsummer's Day.

My ears are currently seduced by: The Civil Wars - Civil Wars

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Stars Stickers & Sweets

If you know my deeper thoughts, you'll know that I have always had a hard time seeing life through diagrams, charts, systems and ready-made concoctions to be ingested. I like for things to be a little more vibrant, flavoured with space for creativity and imagination.

Well, that was then. Back when my stomach was flat and childbearing hadn't left its imprints. Back when I slept through the night uninterrupted. Back when getting up, mealtimes and bedtimes were not dictated by three little pairs of hands and feet.

Theoretically, my views haven't shifted, but in practice, I have to admit that motherhood has thrown a few (mostly good) surprises my way.
I have had seasons when after a whirlwind of a day, I come to a standstill and google, out of desperation, "how to deal with a strong-willed child". In surrender, I seek for answers from the pixelated black and white print. And surely enough, I find solace from the words and regain strength for the next day, armed with good intentions, tools and strategies. Those very ones I thought I would never touch, use or need. Trust me I have had to climb down from my high horse a good few times, and cup my hands around those droplets of wisdom written on those parenting/psychological/pediatric blogs and drink deep.

My biggest surprise, however, wasn't so much that these things work - they actually make my parenting a whole lot easier (I almost feel like a fraud!).
We are into day 3 of an appreciatively borrowed "smiley face system" (it does make me cringe, but believe me, it's great) for our eldest, and I can tell you that it makes my life simple and my expectations of her clear. When those are unmet, I simply have to remove one of the smiley faces off the fridge (which correspond to an end of the day treat), instead of going into an inner rage, raise my voice and get exhausted by it all. Simple and efficient. For all concerned. Thank you smiley faces.

Oh I get by with a lil' help from my friends. 

I'm learning and living that some ideals must bend to the wind of reality, and kiss the fertile ground that is a blossoming life.