Prima Ballerina

lballetYou’re our prima ballerina.

That’s an old-fashioned term and I’m sure it’s not entirely accurate in today’s dance world. No doubt you’ll set me straight, rattling off French terms that slip through my mind like water, and describing in minute detail how things actually work in a dance company. That’s your world, not mine.

You are deeply invested in it: forgoing other activities, squirreling away money and birthday requests for additional classes and competitions, always spinning and leaping and holding your arms out just so. This past year you danced 4-5 nights a week: ballet, lyrical, musical theater, jazz and pointe. It’s exhausting. You know… for me, who has to sit in the car in my pajamas every other night playing on my phone while you drag yourself out all glowing, sweaty and limp with muscle strain.

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It’s a level of discipline I don’t even aspire to, but deeply admire. And so very you. To choose something you love and pour yourself into it without reservation. You’ve inherited your father’s propensity for intense devotion. That’s a good thing.

Especially for us. We have the most unusual parenting problems with you.

  • “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get all your homework done.” You’re an honours student and our only concerns are that you chill out occasionally.
  • “Honesty isn’t always the best policy, be diplomatic.” You don’t play social games, you’re almost impossible to offend, and you only seem shy because you’re quiet.
  • “Let us be the parents, relax.” You step in so much to help with your little brother and sister that they consider you more of a parent than a playmate. You are a powerful combination of responsible and nurturing, especially for someone your age.

And that’s the tough stuff. Who knows, maybe 14 will usher in a wild period of rebellion. I doubt it.

This year we celebrated 13 with a mother-daughter trip to New York City and Boston. Not only was it a great adventure for us both. It was a great opportunity to step away from normal life and just enjoy you. We had so much fun, so little sleep and made so many memories.

Life just gets busier from here on out. You’re already commenting on how fast time flies by. It just gets faster. The teenage years aren’t always easy, not even for us responsible types. But they are also exciting and important. Enjoy 14. It only happens once.

Love,

Mom

And now, a word from Dad…

Dear L,

Who is this young lady I see before me, and what did she do with my little girl?

What a year it’s been for you. New York. Chicago. A starring role in the ballet show. High school. New friends, new church, new babysitting jobs…

To be honest, as hard as it is for me to believe that you are already 14, I also have a hard time remembering that you are ‘only’ 14. You bear so much responsibility at times and juggle so many things so well, that you often seem much older. You are mature beyond your years, and I couldn’t be prouder. But, don’t let the world – or your parents – rob you of your teenagehood. It’s easy to pile things on you because we know you can handle it, but sometimes we also want you to just enjoy being young!

I’m so glad that you and Mom got to take that trip to New York. Not exactly what I had in mind when I first pitched the idea of a 13-year-old trip many years ago, but so much better. When you got home, Mom told me how wonderful it was to spend that time with you. For the first time, you were relating to each other as something close to peers; she got an early taste of what it will be like to hang out with you as an adult, and she loved it.

I joke about being jealous of you guys getting to see New York without me – and it’s true, I would love to go someday. But more than seeing the city, I’d just love to be able to spend that kind of focused, uninterrupted time with you, anywhere I can get it. As your schedule gets increasingly full with school and dance and jobs and friends, that time becomes more and more precious. I promise to make it a priority over the next few years, if you promise not to roll your eyes about having to spend time with your old dad!

I also joke about you being another me. And though we’re so alike in so many ways, the truth is, you are uniquely you: a one-of-a-kind mixture of kindness, generosity, smarts, beauty, grace and wisdom. Your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your dance teachers, the people you babysit for – they all tell me what an exceptional person L is.

But they don’t have to tell me – I see it every day. I love you! Happy 14th birthday.

Love, Dad


Raising You is an Art, not a Science

Dear 12-year-old,

Before you, I thought parenting worked like science – laws and equations, inputs and outputs, theories to be proven and disproven with clear, quantifiable results. I may not have used those words. I may not have been aware that I believed this. But my first few years as a mother, and my experience as a daycare teacher, led me to calmly assume that I could manage and mold, if not control, my children.

Your sister, who’s always been predictable, logical and mostly straightforward, strengthened this approach. I had Opinions. I took Positions on the Issues.

Then you came.

You came in a swirl of colour and emotion and self determination. You knocked us out of our neat, manageable orbit. You made us laugh. You made us cry in frustration. You made us see things differently and pay attention to what matters most.

You still do.photo 1

For the first 8 months you refused to sleep in a crib, ever, peacefully slumbering the nights away in your car seat. As a preschooler you INSISTED on wearing a plastic, gold-foil tiara all day, every day, for more than a year. By school age, you eschewed nightgowns and pjs, sleeping fully clothed, occasionally with your back pack strapped on your back.

You have always danced to your own off-beat tune.

You still do.photo 2

I love that about you. There’s so much I love about you. We butt heads a lot. Me parenting you and you being parented by me, is not something that’s ever going to be easy. We’re too much alike in temperament. But I see you, and even when we’re completely at odds I see the great and amazing person you are becoming too.

  • You are creative, not only in the art you make, the strange inventions you think up, but lately in the stories you tell (in serial form to eager classmates); the Unhappily Ever After novella you wrote was dark and snarky, but vibrant and descriptive in a way that warms your writer-parents’ hearts.
  • You are passionate, feeling all the feelings deeply (and loudly).
  • You are sociable – an extrovert in a family of introverts, who genuinely enjoys people and values that interaction above whatever task or activity is happening.
  • You are funny, so cleverly, sarcastically, mature-beyond-your-years funny that guarantees we laugh more than most families. Wit is a hallmark of brilliance (that and your newfound appreciation for science fiction – bravo).
  • You are beautiful. And I know that you can’t see that most days. Which might be your age, or your desire to be tall and willowy, or this stupid, plastic, air-brushed world we live in – but I hope that every time you look in the mirror you see past all that, and see the beauty that I do. If you can do that, I will promise to stop call you “cute” which I know you hate.

It’s not easy being a middle child. Especially not in a family like ours. But you are strong and spirited and that bold personality refuses to fade to the background. Since I first began coaching your 4-year-old sister NOT to let the baby (you!) push her around, I knew you’d be a force to be reckoned with. From day one you’ve challenged us, and though it can get bumpy and intense, I believe that in the end, it’ll be a good thing, both for you and for us. It’s possible that my personality is just a smidge ‘strong and determined’ too, so I have to take some credit/blame.

The world needs more good, strong women – and you have all the makings of a great one. I’m so glad to be your mom!

Happy Birthday!

And now a word from Dad…

Dear C,

In so many ways, I feel like we’ve learned more about you, and the woman you are becoming, in the past year than in any year that’s come before.

I see it in your artwork, which stuns me with each new piece. You have so much creative talent bottled up inside you, and now that it’s spilling out onto the page (and your bedroom door), I’m absolutely astounded – and so proud. I just can’t wait to see what you will produce as you continue to learn and grow in your skills and passion.

I see it in the Once Upon a Time story you wrote for school which, let’s face it, was really more of a novel. I didn’t know whether to be disturbed by the darkness of your tale or excited by your ability to spin it with a vocabulary that far outstrips your age, but I chose the latter. I know you don’t see yourself as a writer, but in a family of writers, it’s clear that a little something has rubbed off.

I see it in your wicked sense of humor, in the movies you enjoy, the books you read, and the songs you sing. You are a ton of fun to hang out with, which makes it all the more sad when you take off on us for three weeks, like you did this summer for Chicago. And yet, I’m so glad you got to have that amazing experience.

I see it in your dance, where you worked so hard and stuck with a class that you hated, just so you could do the ones that you love. That willingness to persevere and go after what you want will serve you very well.

I see it in your love and patience with B and S: how quick you are to forgive when he unintentionally hurts you, and how you always choose to play with the kids rather than put away the dishes.

And I even see it in your desire to make up your own mind about church. I know that our change has been hard for you to accept, and while we do want Nexus to be a family thing for now, and for you to give it your best shot, I greatly admire you for standing up for what you believe, and really owning it. I will always support you in that, whatever path it leads you down.

I love you C, and I’m proud and grateful to have you in our family. Happy 12th birthday – next year’s a big one!

Love, Dad


Robin Williams and the Human Condition

He was one of my favourites. Actor and comedian, with the rare ability to be silly, witty and emotionally raw all at the same time. I’ve always looked forward to his movies, like a visit with a funny uncle. Knowing that even if everything else goes wrong, the sarcastic quips and that familiar twist-y grin will redeem a few moments.

 

It’s a tragedy when the world loses a human being, for any reason. We’re less for it. Less than we could be. Should be. I don’t believe that people are interchangeable, pieces that can be shuffled and replaced as needed.

As many of us as there are in this world, each of us has a purpose and potential. Some way to make this place happier, kinder, smarter, prettier – better. Some divine spark of our very own. Imago Dei.

I believe this so strongly I tattooed it on my arm to remind myself. Every human being – infinitely precious, entirely unique.

I can’t help but think that if more of us would truly believe this and do something about it, we’d be able to figure it out. Justice. Sustainability. Peace. God help us.

A few things I’ve learned in this past week… Every day 150,000 people die. At least a third of these deaths are unrelated to age. In Iraq, extremists are beheading children and displaying their heads on spikes. In Gaza, endless war feeds ancient hatreds with no end in sight. In Canada, 83% of disabled women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

And now Robin Williams is lost, presumably to suicide after years of struggle with depression.

Looking at the state of the world, I can’t help but wonder why depression doesn’t stalk us all.

Every time a celebrity kills themselves, intentionally or otherwise, the familiar discussion begins about why. Why, if they have so much, would they give it all up? As a society we’ve worshipped money, fame and power for so long that this seems like an anathema. These are the winners in our game.

But we’re all just people. Feeling powerless and lonely. Struggling with our worst impulses. Hurting. Hurting others.

Then someone makes us laugh. A silly little thing. And briefly we rise above mere entertainment – there is a flash of connection, the joy of understanding, the thrill of absurdity unveiled. This was Robin Williams’ gift.

He reminded us we were more than the dark and depressing realities. We are laughter and comradery and joy.

We’re all just people. Feelings. Thoughts. Dreams. With so much more in common than not. Learning to love and be loved.

I didn’t know Robin. Not really. I can’t tell you what happened to bring him to despair. But I know the world is less without him.

There’s a hole that only he could fill. There’s a hole that only you can fill. And one just for me. I haven’t plumbed the depth and breadth of it yet. But I’m trying.

And when the job seems dark and lonely and too hard to bear, I might pop in one of his movies. Laugh. Cry. And remember that we’re all just people.

So here’s me, grieving for all the empty places left in Iraq, Gaza, and Hollywood this week. But even more for all the empty places left by those who are just too afraid, or selfish, or messed up to step up and do what they were made to do.

 


Beyond Obligation

He has been contractually obligated to love me for 19 years. And I him.

Half my life. My entire adulthood tied up in another person. And his in me.

There are times past and will be times future when duty must override feeling. The selfish whims, the natural drift, the impulse to escape and countless other sleep-deprived, frustrated, overwhelmed miseries life inevitably brings. We hash out problems and overcome obstacles and treat each other well because we must. Because there is no other option we’ll consider.

Which is more romantic than it sounds.

Although we are tethered by both legal documents and sacred vows, these are not what keeps us together in the long run. It’s the things we choose to share. The jokes, the plans, the goals, the memories, the passions, the understandings, even the troubles.

I’m my own person. He’s his own person. But there’s an overlap, an US, that makes life so much more than it would be otherwise.

He’s different from the man I married at 19. God knows, I’m different than the optimistic kid he married. Somehow we’ve managed to grow and change ourselves without compromising US. People ask us about it – what’s the secret to a long, happy marriage – and I’m never sure of an answer. Maybe there isn’t just one. There’s no magical compatibility like in the movies. There’s no process or technique that guarantees success. There’s just two human beings doing the best they can, and praying it’s enough.

We date. We talk. We fight. We hide under the covers and wish the morning away. We debate. We make love. We tease. We laugh. A lot.

At first we “fell” in love and it was easy. Then we “vowed” to love forever and it was expensive. Now we “live” our love every single day and it is the best and hardest thing to do.

I have been in love with him for 19 years. And he with me.

The best part of my life is OUR life.

Happy Anniversary!

Yes - those are hockey sticks. How Canadian.

Yes – those are hockey sticks. How Canadian!

So here’s us.


Grown Up is Hard to Be

There’s this thing about growing up, about working and moving out and moving away, about relationships and making commitments and parenting. This thing we don’t talk about very much. This thing that doesn’t make for great copy in hallmark cards or lyrics in the hell-yeah-life-is-sweet-and-I’m-so-cool songs that they play on the radio.

Sometimes being a grown up sucks.

Not in the grand romantic tradition of great tragedies. Nothing you could write an epic ballad about. Or turn into a memoir. But in small, petty ways that rub and chafe and make us seem like whiners for bringing it up at all. Whether we choose to moan and complain, or bottle it up under the label of positivity, we feel the sting.

It’s no wonder we make heroes of those who throw off societal convention to chase their whims (something every toddler does on a daily basis). That’s right Kerouac, I’m looking at you. They seem glamorous. Romantic. When they’re more likely immature and selfish.

Deep down, we long to escape the menial, the mundane, the constant drip of urgent. We drool over travel brochures and retirement ads. We imagine that if we make this much money or get that job or our kids reach such-and-such a milestone, it’ll be easy and fun all the time. We tally up the costs of selflessness – lost time, lost energy, lost dreams, lost sleep, and some days, lost sanity.

Then a little voice chirps “I love you!” and places a slobbery kiss on your cheek. Or that someone special brings home your favourite treat because they just happened to be thinking of you. Or you sit down with a good book in your favourite chair in your own home that fits you exactly right.

It’s so much more gained than lost.

Day-to-day, being a grown up can suck, but in a long run, it’s a win. So we choose meaningful over happy. We have faith that this path is the right one, the one we were made for.

Until I find another dirty, wet towel thrown on my bed. Then, all perspective is lost.

I’m only human.

So here’s me, in my journey toward maturity. My continuing mission to explore this strange old world, to seek out a good life and civilize my children, to boldly go where so many have gone before.

Yes. I’m a dork.

A great article on the benefits of being a grown up:
There’s More to Life Than Being Happy


He’s big. He’s bad. He’s Four.

We told ourselves that the first year would be the hardest, that life would find normal after that. The next year, we told ourselves that, really, adopting and adjusting must require at least two years. It’s year three and he’s never stopped rocking our world.

But we wouldn’t get off this ride, not even if it meant uninterrupted sleep and endless free time, because life with the boy is worth it.
Happy 4th Birthday my son!

You crouch low, stomping bare feet on the grass.

“I’m big. I’m bad. I’m big. I’m bad.”

Then you blow my house down. I scream. You clap your hands, shrieking with laughter.

I remind your wandering feet that we don’t go into the road. Not even big, bad wolves. You spin a tale of wolves growing wings and flying over the road. Big hand gestures. A grin that could swallow the whole world.

I’m pretty sure one day it will. You’re irresistible!

Not many can understand your chatter, but it’s coming. You work so hard with Cathy, the speech therapist we have to sneak into the house. She has to work with your sister first, because once you catch sight of her, you won’t rest until she gives you her undivided attention. You understand more than anyone imagined. You are delayed in some ways, but outstrip much older children in many areas.

You’re so smart! I’m one of the privileged few that gets to see just how bright and creative you are. I was amazed when you started naming all the letters you saw last fall. Sure, we’d read alphabet books and you liked to watch that phonics video with your sister, but we’d never taken the time to intentionally teach you these things. You just picked it up. Pretty soon you were naming all the letters, both upper and lower case – and the sounds they make. Pointing them out on signs and in books, shuffling through flashcards and playing alphabet games – little else can hold your attention like the letters.

Except maybe trains. And volcanoes. You’re obsessed with volcanoes.

You started preschool this year, and you LOVE it! You’ve done so well, enjoying the general busyness, the interaction with other kids, the outdoor play, and the hugs and attention from Miss Kathleen, Miss Christine… and your very own teacher/helper (Miss Christy). They’ve noticed how sweet and intelligent you are too.

This year, we saw beyond your struggles to your strengths. We don’t know what the future will bring; we’ve been warned that you will need extra help to learn. You need help with safe behaviour, social cues and sensory modulation. But you are resilient and good natured and you keep surprising us. No tiny preconceived box can hold you.

You have a relentless determination when it comes to overcoming obstacles. Unfortunately for us, these obstacles are often there for a reason – like the deadbolt on the front door. One of the scariest moments in my life was seeing that door hanging open and you nowhere in sight (we found you three doors down laying in the road with a friendly cat). Then it happened again. And again. The latches on the back gate. The child lock on the medicine cabinet. The time you found an unlatched door on the school, then locked yourself in (and daddy out).

I hope you survive your childhood. I hope we do. It’s exhausting, and scary sometimes, because I love you so much and want your life to be safe and easy (and sometimes just a little quieter). But you are not built for safe and easy. You’re meant to be extraordinary! Not to mention fun, rambunctious, silly, happy, imaginative, affectionate, sweet and full of love, love, love!

Bringing you home, to our family, is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Happy Birthday buddy!

Love always, Mom

 

And now… a word from Daddy.

Shortly after you came home forever, we celebrated your 2nd birthday. At the time, I was a little overwhelmed by how crazy you were. I had never experienced such energy combined with such little regard for personal safety and reasonable limits.

Of course, it’s perfectly normal for a toddler to get into all sorts of trouble. So I told myself, if we could just survive till you were 4, things would surely calm down.

Well, here we are on your 4th birthday, and unless you’ve radically changed since last night, all I can do is laugh. If anything, our crazy dial has been turned up another six notches. But, our capacity for crazy has likewise expanded.

I now realize that you have a zest for life that cannot, will not and should not be denied. Yes, it needs to be checked by common sense and a concern for those around you. And yes, I very much look forward to the day when we can go out in public and your mom and I can just relax, without one of us having to constantly follow in your footsteps to make sure you don’t do any damage. That will be nice.

But this is who you are: a boy filled with wonder, a thirst for adventure, a need to move, and a desire to experience everything your world has to offer. And you do it all with an irresistible grin that makes it impossible to stay frustrated with you for long – even when I want to!

Lately, you’ve taken to stomping around the house, whispering to yourself, “I’m big. I’m bad. I’m big. I’m bad. I’m big. I’m bad!” I believe you lifted that from the Wonder Pets.

It couldn’t be more fitting. You’re big. You’re bad. You’re tons of fun. And you are loved. I’m so glad you’re part of my family, Mr. Goob! Happy 4th birthday!

Love, Daddy


Exhale

The men kitty corner to me in this restaurant are dissecting women. Loudly proclaiming which pieces they prefer. To use. Don’t they know that this pair of breasts comes with a pair of ears? I can hear. I can feel.

Objectification.
Patriarchy.
Rape culture.
My 13-year-old child is a beauty, looking much older than the innocent child she is.
My worry. Disgust. Fear.

Exhale.

I log in to Facebook, heart sinking to read about yet another victim to the modern scourge. Daffodils sold by the ton, and yet cures stubbornly elude the smartest of us. It’s rare to feel so helpless in this day and age.

Chemotherapy.
Radiation.
Survival odds.
My loved ones are not immune, dealt a brutal hand. Again.
My worry. Disgust. Fear.

Exhale.

She browbeats my husband. Yelling, in front of our children, gesturing her disdain. “Why don’t you teach your kids some manners?” Their almond eyes, simple hearts and developmental profiles are powerless to protect them from this attitude.

Misunderstanding.
Judgment.
Ignorant cruelty.
My special kids work so hard, struggling to find their place in this world.
My worry. Disgust. Fear.

Exhale.

I shadowbox invisible foes,
bouts I cannot win.
I choke on the toxic fumes,
of a world I cannot control.
Until I learn to clear my lungs.
Let it go.
Play my part,
then leave the fight in Divine hands.

Exhale.

So here’s me, on a lovely summer holiday full of fun and adventure and ice cream, learning to spit out the ugly that finds us, even here.

This is my contribution to the Five Minute Friday roundup on the word:
Exhale.

5minutefriday


What I’m Into: Summer 2014

It’s been a long time since I shared a “What I’m Into” post. I haven’t posted much of anything for the past 3 months. Clearly, I’m not that into blogging lately. Not that I’ve lost my love for writing as a hobby/therapy/desperate bid for attention – let’s pretend I didn’t actually spell out that last reason out, shall we?

The truth is, I’ve spent a great deal of my writing mojo on other projects lately. Hesitantly poking my nose into freelance articles, writing poetry and short stories I may never show anyone, and even, deep breath admitting this out loud, the start of my sci-fi YA novel. There are other outlets that would make more sense both financially and practically right now. But sometimes you have to do what makes your heart sing, no matter how silly it seems to everyone else.

So here’s a few of the other things that made my heart sing this summer:

the Calgary Stampede, steak and cheese bread from Ceasar’s, making s’mores with family from far and wide, a backyard full of toys and half-naked cousins, little ones kissing Gigi on the cheek

sour cherry slurpees, lifesaver popsicles and watermelon on the hot, miserable days

kiddie pools, beach days and eating on the deck

finding new sci-fi buddies in my own house (thanks to Aunt Colleen for the amazing Marvel-cation you gave L and C this summer) – next up: Star Trek

brand new text books full of things to learn (art history, medieval literature and creative writing)

Reading

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is technically a children’s book (ages 9-12), but I’ve read it twice already. This should be required reading for everyone who’s ever known someone with a disability, or ever will. Funny, gut-wrenching and uplifting by turns it follows Auggie Pullman, who was born with a drastic facial deformity, as he attends school (grade 5) for the first time.

Cinder, followed by Scarlett and Cress in short order. I both love and hate the cliff-hanger endings, especially since the fourth and final installment doesn’t come out until next year. The premise of these futuristic fairy tales (Cinderella the cyborg) is intriguing and the writing is solid, if not brilliant. I’ll go a long way for a clever premise.

Black Dog, Dream Dog is a sweet tale written by Michelle Superle for young dog lovers. I am neither of those things, but a fan of the author and the art of gentle story-telling. They don’t make enough like these anymore.

Bloom by Kelle Hampton has been sitting on my shelf for months. It’s recommended to me, and no doubt every other mother of a child with Down Syndrome, on a regular basis. I admire Kelle’s unvarnished honesty, her stunning photography and her lovely writing. BUT, her experience is as different from mine as night and day. It was so hard to relate to. For those with little experience in the messiness of life, those who pursue picture perfect and are facing the first bump in the road, this might be the book for you. But not for me.

I also really, really wanted to enjoy Blue Shoe by one of my favourite authors Anne Lamotte, but alas, I hated it.

Watching

This summer my TV (read: Netflix) watching has consisted of:

  • Season 2 of Veronica Mars
  • Suits – a stylish and fun (though unrealistic) drama about lawyers
  • A blast from my far past – Highlander (full episodes found on Youtube)
  • Extant – weird, but interesting
  • Under the Dome – losing steam, but refusing to give up entirely

The movies that I’ve enjoyed lately are:

  • If I Stay, a sugary sweet, but still palatable story about family, death and young love
  • The silly, but strangely endearing Guardians of the Galaxy
  • And for some reason, despite the gory violence, Lucy

I don’t know if I’m getting old (or boring according to my kids), but I’m enjoying documentaries and Ted Talks an awful lot these days. Here’s a few of my favourites:

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

If you stumble on me doing an aggressive Wonderwoman pose in the bathroom, blame science.

The Happiness Advantage

The Game that can give you 10 Extra Years of Life

Blogging

Summer isn’t all fun and games. I’m learning to Exhale and accept that Grown Up is Hard to Be. I even posted my first celebraty tribute: Robin Williams and the Human Condition.

We celebrated 19 years of imperfect, but mostly happy marriage this July – Beyond Obligation.

The summer is also a time for birthdays, which in our family means birthday letters. After much discussion, the kids agreed they can be posted on the blog (I suspect it has something to do with the rave reviews we give them). He’s big. He’s bad. He’s four., Raising You is an Art, not a Science, and Prima Ballerina.

So here’s us, facing an uncertain fall full of new things. Teacher’s strike looming, all new SEA’s and teachers for the girl, full time school for me and 4 days a week of preschool for the boy. Wonderwoman poses for everyone.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer:

what I'm into


Unpacking: Two Years Ago Today

The tag on the back says “12 mos” – a measure of size and not age. I shake out the blue and white checked pants before folding them, tangible proof that our almost two-year-old is much smaller than most his age. Tiny shirts, pants, footie pajamas and an impressive array of cute onesies emerge from cloth shopping bags, filling the mostly empty drawers. I move the size 2 outfits we’d purchased to the closet. The weight and height measurements we had gleaned from medical files did nothing to prepare us for the Lilliputian dimensions of our brand new toddler.

Brand new to us, that is. Up until now he’d been an abstraction, the idea of a son sketched out in black and white via e-mails and social workers’ reports. He had seemed to come to life in daydreams fueled by my own fervent desires and charitable impulses. Caught up in my excitement, his big sisters painted this very room themselves; a sloppy, but affectionate gesture. Jungle green smeared over princess pink walls. Lions, tigers, bears and a miniature Webkinz elephant were rescued from stuffed animal purgatory to serve as both decoration and entertainment.

He came with his own stuffed animals too. Clothes, toys, soothers, a neon mobile that plays nature sounds and lull-a-byes at the press of a button; I’m told he prefers falling asleep to Bach each night (classy). He has a favourite blanket, book, game, food, way of being woken each morning and, no doubt, a thousand other things I didn’t even think to ask about. In real life, we have more questions than answers. I have no idea if he’ll like his room.

When I brought my daughters home, these same drawers were bursting with clothes. From day one I was the acknowledged expert on who they were and what they needed. It wasn’t that complicated; newborn infants are more potential than established personality. But almost two-year-olds don’t fit neatly into the boxes my imagination had constructed. He came with his own things. He came with his own identity.

A worn blue T-shirt, obviously a favourite, clutched in my hand, it finally occurs to me that, in all their wisdom, the Government of Canada, under the auspices of the Ministry of Child and Family Development, has seen fit to give us an actual person.

First steps in the door bringing our new son home forever!

First steps in the door, bringing our new son home forever!

So here’s us, two years after first bringing home boy. We’ve learned a lot and we still have a lot to learn. It’s been a wild ride! It never ceases to amaze me that they gave us a real, live person. For Keeps!

We love, love, love this little guy. Happy FOR KEEPS Day to us!


What I Believe: What is a Progressive Christian Anyway?

I was raised by Jesus. He was always there in songs and prayers, bible storybooks and Sunday School flannelgraph. He was as real to me as any person I knew in person.

heart handIn fact, he was flesh and blood to me, in the lives of my parents and grandparents and countless aunts and uncles of the church. It was from them I learned about love. The kind of love that gets its hands dirty, that dispenses advice alongside hugs and casseroles, that quietly slips money to those who need it, that faithfully prays and cares and shows up when normal people would give up; that opens up their homes and their hearts to strangers, and keeps doing it again and again, even when they get burned.

The Divide

It’s because of this heritage, and not to spite it, that I find myself in the open waters of a new kind of Christianity. Not just me, but thousands and thousands of others. Not just young people like me (okay fine, young at heart, though middle-aged in body); in fact, our new church has a far better balance of ages/stages than the old one.

The Christian church has been in the throes of growing pains for quite awhile, a polarization of sorts. The Neo-Reformed movement and other conservative trends pulling back, while the emerging church and progressive Christianity (two different, but similar theological movements) are pushing out.

Love it, hate it, or just try to ignore it and hope it goes away – this is the landscape. I’ve sat on both sides of the debates, so I can honestly say, there are wonderful, sincere people I respect on almost every point on the spectrum. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get nasty.

In fact, both as a Fundamentalist Christian and now as a Progressive one, my feelings have been hurt; I have felt misunderstood and underestimated. Not because of the issues, but because of the assumptions made about my motivations and character. And I’m sad to admit that I’ve done the same to others.

As a conservative I was accused of being a Pharisee; a dark insult for church folks – implying a harsh, arrogant and legalistic attitude which Jesus loathes. Why couldn’t they see how sincerely devoted I was to pleasing God and doing the right thing? How hard I struggled to make myself and the whole world better? I was not this caricature they were painting. I was not the villain.

As a progressive I’ve been accused of taking the easy, immature path. It’s been assumed that I am conforming to the world, selling out, giving in, flirting with sin… even endangering the wellbeing of my children. And still I find myself asking: why can’t they see how sincerely devoted I am to pleasing God and doing the right thing, to making myself and the whole world better?

The truth is, none of us are the caricature-version of ourselves, not even the most belligerent, obnoxious extremists. It’s not that simple, a cast of villains and heroes. That would be easier, simpler, a stroke to the ego, but it’s childish to paint the world in black and white.

We disagree in important ways, about important issues; there’s no way to soft petal that. But the ‘Christian thing to do’ is to assume the best about each other’s intentions as we do it. After all, we struggle with both pride and conformity on both sides of this divide.

What Does “Progressive Christianity” Mean To Me?

After wrestling through this section, I added the “to me” to the subtitle. As labels often are, ‘Progressive Christianity’ is an awkward and frequently misunderstood phrase, with a shadow of political rhetoric behind it. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve got for now. It also encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices. As I’ve only begun to dip my toe into these waters, I’m hardly one to speak expertly on such a complicated subject. But, when have I ever let that stop me? ;)

After extensive reading on the subject, I actually like Wikipedia’s summary a lot:

Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to “love one another” (John 15:17) within the teaching of Jesus Christ. This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism.

shakespeare

As much as the term ‘Progressive Christian’ has gained traction recently, it isn’t a new one; it was first used over 100 years ago. Nor is it confined to any particular denomination: Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, or even Emergent. It’s often confused with the ideology of Liberal Christianity, which at first glance seems similar, but stems from an entirely different view of Christ and the bible (see: Not Conservative, Not Liberal: Progressive ).

Where conservative theologians see the bible as a timeless, inerrant blueprint upon which every facet of life should be built (with varying degrees of literalism), liberal theologians see it as an interesting ancient document from which we can draw useful and inspiring lessons, but nothing more. On the other hand, progressives (along with many different stripes of Christians throughout history) believe that the bible is a sacred book, divinely inspired by God and written (as well as translated) by men in the context of their particular culture, containing both spiritual power and cultural bias. Unlike most evangelicals, we are not tied to “sola scriptura,” believing that God is revealed also through nature, tradition, experience, common sense, science… et cetera. After all, the Word of God is not really a book, it’s actually a person – Jesus (so says the bible).

So What?

My journey from conservative evangelicalism has included a long process of questioning and rebuilding my faith (see: Breaking Up with my Church, From Certainty to Mystery and Embracing a Bigger Gospel for more on that). It was in reading the parables that I saw my troubles most clearly. I am much more like the older brother than the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I relate to the religious man thanking God for my superior morality and good life, not the sinner desperately begging for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). I’m the hard worker who is outraged when the lazy drunk shows up at the last minute and gets paid the same wage (Matt 20:1-16). No matter how you slice it, I’m not the hero, I’m the cautionary tale.

It’s us, the religious ones, that have the hardest time accepting complete and undeserved grace. We also have the hardest time giving it freely.

I realized that my practice of Christianity was not nurturing the kind of humility necessary to love like Jesus does. I was deeply entrenched in an Us/Them mentality, and it was no longer ringing true. Somewhere along the way I had simplified what is meant to be complex and mysterious, and complexified what is meant to be simple and straightforward.

What does this look like for me?

For me, this looks like fighting for social justice, against consumerism and for the protection of nature. It stands up for the oppressed, the hungry, the addicted, the hurting and the lonely. It insists on respect for all people, especially those who lack power. It promotes feminism both in and out of the church, affirms LGBT people and gay marriage. It shocks and horrifies my conservative friends and family.

Inevitably these arguments end in a standoff between two sets of priorities: being right vs. doing good. This is not to say that we aren’t able to both be right and do good, but where there is humanity in the mix, life is rarely simple. In the face of complexity, most Christians choose to err either on the side of holiness or on the side of love.

I don’t always get it right. In fact, my biggest struggle is scrutinizing specks in the eyes of evangelicalism, rather than focusing on being healthy myself. I have a long road ahead of me, learning to live without judgment and exclusion. It is a radical, difficult, but ultimately rewarding choice. I draw deeply on the examples of my family and my evangelical heritage, because even as we may disagree, there are many who get this part right.

When we choose to love selflessly without judgment or agenda, we are acting as the hands and feet of Christ, no matter what our label or political position. This much we can agree on.

So here’s me, and I hope to someday address these specific issues on this blog, especially gay rights, which is particularly contentious and confusing for Christians right now. Someday.


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