Does Spiritual Growth for Parents Pause While Kids Grow?

TL;DR: I invite you and your kids to come on a retreat.

Roar and I have gone to church twice now. It’s a mostly new experience, Rebel was in the nursery for the first year while I was working. Also, what will surprise no parent of more than two children: my two girls are very different. Roar roars. She can roar so loudly my eardrums rattle. (I’ve started facing her towards my bad ear when she cries, so my good ear doesn’t go bad.) She doesn’t always roar, most of the time she’s just making baby noises and trying out her smiles. Even though she’s got lungs to match the angels, I keep her in worship with me. (There’s no nursery, but, she’d stay with me anyway.)

I keep her in worship because I believe it is never too early to let children know they are loved by God. The community reflects God’s love especially when it welcomes children who act like children. Churches are richer when there’s a kid or two or seventeen present. If Roar starts roaring, I do get up and go change her diaper in another room, but then I stand in the back and rock her. As I was rocking her on Sunday, I got smiles from those around me who heard her cooing, they know the value of seeing the face of God reflected in a child.

I am grateful for spaces where I feel welcome to be present with my small children. There seem to be far too many spaces in our culture where kids should be allowed, but aren’t welcomed. It’s kept me more isolated than I need to be. (So is the fact that simply leaving the house can be a production.)

Even in the midst of constantly caring for my two young children, I seek to grow spiritually. I’m going to turn 35 this week, and I don’t want to wait until after I’m 40 to grow deeper in my spiritual development. So I want a space for spiritual reflection and growth with babies welcome. I’m going to lead this retreat. We will create space for messy holiness. The Spirit can speak in many places including both in silence and the squeals of the littlest child.

We will partner together so each participant can have a time of silence and solitude each day (a minimum of half an hour a day), but most of the time we will gather together with our babies and learn together. If you don’t have children, you are also welcome, just know there will be kids there, too.

Spiritual growth doesn’t have to wait until you can be away from your kids for two days. You don’t have to spend an hour a day in your morning quiet time to grow spiritually. Children learn from their parents, a good way to teach them is to show you value their presence even while you retreat.

I’ve not encountered this idea before. Who wants to pilot it with me?

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Becoming Thin

I am nine months pregnant.

Complete strangers have zero compunction in asking me whether I’m having a boy or a girl… they don’t ask if I’m expecting anymore, they assume I am. It’s ok, I am, I’m housing our next generation in my body, and I am physically reminded of it nearly every moment.

I have increased.

My normal clothes stopped fitting in July, I misjudge distances between my growing self and doors, I sway with each step (I won’t deign to call it waddling), and I consciously step so that I don’t lose my balance with the shift in my weight.

I am growing a child.

As I play host to one child, I am still tending to my energetic two year old day in and day out. For nearly a year and a half, she has been my primary focus of care. I stepped away from my chosen career and turned the majority of my focus on her, my husband, and our respective relationships. My field of influence has shrunk significantly. I went from leading a weekly worship service of three hundred to partnering in a family of three.

My life has narrowed.

My friend and acquaintance circles have shrunk, conversations I have with those outside my home are rare, and I am just as likely to discuss my daughter’s eating habits as I am to discuss current events. I spend more time reading for pleasure than I have in the past, but I have also begun to memorize entire movies and seasons of television shows that my daughter enjoys.

I have bared my life down to essentials.

I have distilled what is possible into what is needful and necessary. In part, this is because I am physically slower. I need to rest far more often than I had become accustomed to. I have more limits on my body right now because of how my daughter is taking up the space provided for her. Some weeks I consider it a grand accomplishment to purchase and prepare our family meals.

I am becoming thin.

Not in girth, obviously, but in preparation for ushering a new life into this world.

There is a concept in Celtic Christian theology called a Thin Place. It is where the veil between the world and the Kingdom of God is the most transparent. It is where God and the world meet. You can sense one in a cathedral or in the wilderness. It is where the holy breaks into the mundane. It is where wonder and awe inspire people to worship. It is where the soul sings. Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 9.16.09 a

I am preparing to create a thin place.

When my daughter is born, I will be ushering her into this world. Parts of my body will thin and move out of the way and my womb will work incredibly hard and labor to bring a new child into existence. Her soul will enter this world through our partnering and my family will expand our love to welcome her into our lives. We will witness an incredible act of God in the midst of the blood and sweat and tears of delivering a child. We will be spectators to the extraordinary as our daughter breathes her first breath.

Pain and joy are inextricably linked in childbirth, as I will undertake incredibly hard work in order to meet this person that I have been carrying in my own flesh for nine months.

That day is coming soon. But it is not yet here. For now, I continue to live my narrow life where I focus on essentials so that when the day comes to create a thin place, every part of me is ready to be fully present for meeting our daughter for the first time.

Growing in Change

We change. We grow. We collect scars. We mature. We make mistakes. We learn. We carry wounds. We heal. We build relationships. We burn bridges. We hurt. We ignore. We decay. We develop.

We change.

I believe everyone changes. I don’t believe that the change is necessarily healthy or good, but all of us change. We can change into people who become more and more caustic and hateful, or we can choose to be people that grow towards health and wisdom.

I believe people can change because I can see the change in myself and the people around me.

I have grown wiser, more cautious, more outgoing, and occasionally more judgmental. I have become a better parent, wife, and pastor. I’ve developed my patience. I’ve learned to center myself in something besides myself.

I’ve seen my relationship with my husband, John, change over the past eight years we’ve been together. We’re still learning how to communicate with each other. I’d have thought I would have gotten more of it down by now. Apparently we keep changing and learning about ourselves, and keep bringing more to the relationship than we are aware of. This has been helpful to learn and challenging to navigate.

I’ve especially seen my daughter change. It’s easier to see: she adds a new word to her vocabulary each day. Her change is in greater increments. But when she reaches kindergarten, puberty, high school, college, or adulthood, she won’t stop changing. I’ll keep having to get to know her as we each keep changing.

I’ve even been able to tell that the daughter I am carrying is changing. Her kicks are getting stronger. She moves within me and listens to me sing. She grows.

I had a terrible migraine this past week thanks to Hurricane Irma that lasted four days. I cannot remember the last time I had a four day migraine. It was before I started trying to conceive our first child. The bonus is that I cannot take the usual medication I take to handle my migraines. I had tylenol and the ability to relax my body. After three days I got a rescue dose that knocked me to sleep and kept me out of the emergency room. When I am in the midst of a migraine that long, I have a hard time believing that I will never not have a migraine. I know, logically, that this is not the truth, but I feel like I will hurt and be exhausted forever.

What amazes me is that I lived through a season of migraines like this for a year and a half. I survived them hitting me in waves every single week.

What astonishes me is that it has been over three years since that season. I’ve gotten twice as far past that time than the time I spent in the midst of it. I’m far healthier now. I know my body better. I am more resilient. I enter centering prayer more easily. I am more able to relax my body through the pain, so that it doesn’t hurt as much.

As I spent hours upon hours mindfully relaxing my shoulders, jaw, hips, and neck, I realized I was receiving a small gift in the midst of the pain. Relaxing through an unmedicated migraine is not unlike relaxing through natural childbirth. The technique I use for coping with the pain of migraines is the same that I used for my first birth.

However, the pain itself is different. The experience and purpose of it are radically diametric. Migraines hurt because they hurt. Birth works the body in order to deliver a child.

Birth ushers in a radical change. The labor of childbearing, though intense, is productive.

Change in our lives will hurt. It either hurts because it is producing something new, or because we are caught in a cycle of trying to stay the same while change happens around us. I often get a migraine when a major weather system blows past. My body struggles to catch up to the change in the pressure around it. The weather eventually changes, and I eventually stabilize. But I am changed.

Every day, I change.

Happy…

My daughter and I were watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood earlier this week, and the episode was centered around happiness. Momma Tiger taught Daniel a new song, the Happy Song. “This is my happy song, I could sing it all day long!” By the end of the episode, my daughter was singing along with the words “happy song” each time they repeated. Sometimes “song” has three syllables because the “ng” combination can be a bit tricky, but she gets it. She knows when she is happy.

I tried playing her “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and she wasn’t as in to it until she saw the Minions on the music video. She knows what Minions are. I liked the song before I ever saw a Minion movie, I was fascinated by the website that hosted the music video when it first released, a 24 hour music video of people dancing and singing to “Happy.” Its really hard not to dance and sing when I listen to this song.

I am always happier when I listen to a song that makes me want to sing along. Even if it is not a happy song in and of itself. I am driven by the emotion and compelled to join in the collective call that is created in the music. It can be a lament or a praise, a song about a break-up or falling in love, a cry of loneliness or a celebration of unity, if it is a good song, I will be singing along by the end. I don’t even have to understand the language to want to sing along; I can learn it phonetically.

There are other things that make me happy.

Blank journals always want to find their way into my possession and into my home. They hold such potential for what they could be. I have nine or ten of them waiting to be filled.

Every time I try a new recipe and change it to make it mine, I feel the satisfaction of making something worth eating. Plus, making an old favorite recipe, one that I can nearly do by rote and don’t even have to look at the recipe, brings me incredible satisfaction.

Learning or experiencing a new story or a favorite old story either through a book or movie makes me happy, especially when we have to tease out the reasons why it is a good story. Figuring out what the storyteller is trying to do when it isn’t always obvious is one of my favorite things that my husband and I do after watching a new movie.

The ocean, a lake, or any body of water bigger than a puddle bring me peace. Laughing and playing with my daughter, husband, or friends brings me joy. Playing board games (as long as they are explained well and not a few certain types) lets me work my creative strategic analytical mind and still have fun with it.

I’m realizing now why so many happy things I read are made up of lists, because I am tempted to keep on listing things that make me happy… but I find joy and happiness in a bunch of different places, sometimes I just have to know where to look.

Play With Me

Watching my daughter play has reminded me of some of my favorite toys as a child. Before seeing her pull some of them out, I’m not sure I could have told you what they were, but now, after she has loved on them in the same way that I must have, I remember how much fun I had with them.

There is one toy set that I especially remember and that she is having continual fun with each day: the Sesame Street neighborhood playhouse. Burt, Ernie, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird have their little beds and nest, breakfast table and chairs, couch, slide, see-saw, and car to carry their groceries from Mr. Hooper’s store. Oscar the Grouch is in his trashcan outside. It is thirty years old. My daughter loves it. Not because it is Sesame street, but because it is an entry for her to pretend that another world exists.

She doesn’t know these characters, so she has made them her own. She cares for them. They share her crackers, they nurse when they are thirsty, they have apple and blueberry and cherry snacks whenever they can get a bite. They drive around in their little car from the Hearth Plateau to the cliffs of Mount Couch and through the pass to the Caverns of the dining room table.

I love play, because it allows people to imagine another world, one where the rules don’t always apply, where you can try things out to see how they work without being judged for not fitting in. My daughter reminds me that I need to keep playing, to keep imagining a world where things are not always what they seem. Play reminds us that there are more ways to do something than the way that everyone around us is doing it.

The world is a much bigger place when you can play in it, when a box can be stacked, or become a drum, or be a place for a baby to rest, or a hiding place, or a kitchen cabinet. We live in a fascinating place, we just miss it too often, because we expect to see what we already know. What if we looked at the world like a place to play, where we expect to be surprised by what is in store for us?