Posted in sqt

{sqt} – reclaiming joy

I noticed this week that my children never want to go to bed, because they are just having so much fun and don’t want the day to end, and they wake up each morning full of excitement about the day ahead.

My husband and I, on the other hand, have entered that exhausted parent state where we spend all day waiting for night to come so we can have some quiet space and rest. It makes sense that we end up there, but constantly looking forward to the evening has a tendency to rob the day of its joy.

How can I reclaim some of that joy I had as a child about the new day ahead of me, full of potential for discovery and adventure, for beauty and love?

I’m not entirely sure, but today’s seven quick takes are going to be some ideas I want to implement in my own life this upcoming week. Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the {sqt} link-up!

  1. Reframe the moment: when something is irritating or inconveniencing me, is there a way to look at the situation through different eyes? For example, when one of my children is whining and flopping around about something, I tend to be instantly triggered into frustration. I want to yell at them to pick themselves up and show some independence! At the very least I want to ignore them until they stop whining. But though that is my automatic response, a change in perspective can help me build a more compassionate and helpful response. If I can hear the whining and think, “here is an opportunity for me to love and serve this child like God loves and serves me,” then I can help them with their needs and wants with more gentleness and joy (although I will still ask them to try using a different tone of voice!)
  2. Pause: this goes along with the first point, since a pause can be a good time to try to reframe a situation. But it is good and useful all on its own, also. Instead of coasting through my day on autopilot, pausing for all sorts of reasons can help me see the beauty and feel the joy of everyday life. I can pause to watch with pride as my children take turns with their favorite water bottle; I can pause and count to ten when I hear angry voices coming from the play room to prepare my heart before they come running out to me; I can pause; I can pause when the baby has made yet another awful mess and make the cleanup something we can do together rather than something to make her feel ashamed about. I can pause to breathe out a prayer and breathe in grace when life is overwhelming.
  3. Put the phone away: except for when I’m reading a good book or listening to a good podcast (things I can mostly only do when I’m alone anyways), phone time tends to be an escape from reality and as such hinders any attempt to find joy in my current reality. It distracts me from the good and happy moments of the day especially, since those are the times when the kids are least demanding of my attention – and so it blinds me to the everyday beauty of their growing relationships and maturing character.
  4. Have a plan: if I know at the start of the day something fun that we’re going to do later, the anticipation and enjoyment of that event can easily spread throughout the rest of the day. And if we don’t follow through with the plan because we’re having too much fun doing other things, that is also a source of joy 🙂 It also eliminates some of the tension of looking forward through 12 empty hours not knowing what to expect and thus how to mentally prepare, and it breaks up the cabin fever the kids sometimes get when we’ve been in the house hiding from the heat all day. This could be some sort of outing (like the park or the library or even the grocery store), but it could also just be an activity or craft that we don’t do as often because it requires more set-up (like water balloons or finger-painting).
  5. Go to bed on time: because if I’m tired, it’s going to be a lot harder to feel happy. It’s going to be a lot harder to make the mental effort to reframe each moment. It’s going to be a lot harder to pause instead of reacting emotionally. And it’s going to be a lot harder to be present and engaged instead of sinking away into the virtual reality of my phone.
  6. Play with the kids: play is where they are finding their happiness, joy, and intellectual fulfillment right now, at this age. And they still want me to play with them a lot of the time! Essentially, they are inviting me into their happiness. All too often, being a boring (and tired) adult, I turn them down and find other “more important” tasks I need to do. But if I could let myself go – relax my body, forget the to-do list, ignore the “should’s”, suspend my disbelief – and play with them, even for a little while, I could in those moments have the presence and the joy that they have, and connect with them through it.
  7. Sing!: and dance! Move my body, stretch out of my comfortable shell, and make music! Music is so good for all emotional states – it expresses sorrow and anger, passion and despair, joy and silliness, peace and contentment, and in the expression elicits and draws out those same feelings in us, helping us experience them more deeply and process them more fully. So going back to point 4, I’m planning on having a dance party to silly kids’ songs at least one day this week, and I’m not going to care if my kids think I’m crazy!

What about you? How do you find joy when life is monotonous or stressful?

Posted in family life, sqt

starting our summer strong

Because Rondel was in zoo camp every morning this week (which, by the way, was a major success – he absolutely loved it), I got to spend some more focused time with Limerick and Aubade, and they got to spend more time playing together. Normally, Rondel does most of the talking and directing when the kids are playing, so I was curious what would happen in his absence; what happened was that Limerick filled in the gaps quite easily and just about talked non-stop, especially towards the beginning of the week. And it was nice to have the chance to listen to him without having to simultaneously try to listen to Rondel… it can be a bit much when they are both talking to me (and demanding a response!) at the same time.

  1. On the first day, we stayed at the zoo and watched the Andean bears for a long time. Limerick decided he would be an imaginary creature called a buck bear, and spent at least thirty minutes describing this animal and its habitat to me while Aubade slept. (It is very much an atypical bear, as it has sticky feet like geckos and gills like a fish! Rondel never lets him get away with such aberrations from reality 😛 ). He also was brave enough to sit right against the glass next to the baboon! He’d been watching Aubade interact with her for a while, and had clearly wanted to see the baboon up close himself, but had been too scared to do so. I was proud of him for getting closer even though he was nervous.IMG_3386
  2. On the second day, we came home and just hung out together. We cleaned, we read books, we played with stuffed animals – it was relaxed and fun. (Also, that night we received Rondel’s official diagnosis of autism, after several weeks of waiting.)
  3. On the third day we did more of the same, but stopped in Downtown Mesa on the way home to explore the musical instruments in front of the IDEA Museum. We used to visit there all the time when we lived within walking distance, when Rondel and Limerick were Aubade’s age, but she hasn’t gotten to experience it very much, and judging from her reactions she was very glad we went!

    Yes, I let her choose her own clothes and accessories… apparently oversized T-shirts pilfered from her brothers and metal chain VeggieTales necklaces are in fashion in the 18 month old set these day 🙂 She is so opinionated about what she wears – and always ridiculously cute in it, no matter how off-the-wall it may seem at first.

  4. On the fourth day of camp we rested in the morning but took Rondel with us down to IKEA in the afternoon! IKEA may be a store, but my children seem to think it is a giant playground. Every couch needs to be sat upon, every pillow smushed, every stuffed animal hugged, and every bed snuggled in. We were just there for some curtains, but we lingered everywhere (and let Aubade take a nice long nap in her carseat in the shopping cart en route!). Then I kept my momentum going long enough to hang and hem the curtains, and make a curtain and valance for the kitchen sink window with some fabric I found in my stash.IMG_3475Here they are all pulled back! Those are south-facing windows… and it’s summer in Arizona… so the curtains haven’t been spending too much time open like this. Even just the white fabric over the sink made a noticeable difference when I first hung it up. And I impressed myself (and probably my husband too) by managing to actually complete a project!
  5. The last day of zoo camp I missed out on drop off, pick up, and sweet time with the littles because it was my husband’s day off and my day to go in and work. Not quite as fun, or not fun in the same way, but I did get to consult with a colleague from a different core facility and develop a project and sample tracker for their instruments and workflows, which was both interesting and satisfying. Since I’ve started working such limited hours, and partly from home, my position has shifted a bit away from the biology lab work to the information systems behind the lab work, and I’m finding it really engaging.
  6. It feels like we began the summer at a sprint, and I think it is just going to keep on this way as we have swim lessons and a visit from my sister in June, and my parents are funding a second session of zoo camp for Rondel as a birthday present in July. But honestly the heat is so intense that having planned activities helps prevent me from doing nothing but lounging around the house eating ice cream! Not that ice cream is a bad thing, necessarily… I finally jumped on the nice cream train this summer, one night when Rondel was emotionally collapsing over the absence of ice cream in our house and I knew there were tons of frozen bananas just calling to me. The plain vanilla flavor isn’t my favorite, but the chocolate peanut butter version tastes like decadent chocolate ice cream, with the added bonus of being healthy enough that I can serve it to the kids for lunch and become the coolest mom ever. I don’t really have a recipe, but in essence I just blend up frozen banana chunks in the food processor, with a bit of milk if necessary, and then add in a huge scoop of peanut butter and a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder. We’ve made at least three batches in the past two weeks, and would have made more if we hadn’t run out of bananas and had to buy more, wait for them to get nice and overripe, and then wait for them to freeze! My skepticism regarding this whole concept has been removed by the goodness of nice cream.
  7. And zoo camp itself? Well, every morning Rondel cooperated with me to get dressed and eat his food, he ran ahead into the group to participate, and he greeted me back at the end with endless excitement, ready to tell me about everything he did. He got to pet, hold, and feed a huge variety of animals (from bunnies and boa constrictors to sting rays and giraffes); he drew pictures; he played games with other kids; he got to bring home a sting ray tooth that he sifted out of the sand in a pool; and he got to see so many animals that he loves. In short, he got to practice social skills and adaptability while also being in one of his favorite places in the world, getting to spend time focused on animals without any distractions. I just wish I had pictures!

What are your favorite ways to deal with the heat, especially with little kids? They don’t approve of me just lying in the sun soaking it up, but running around when it’s 100 degrees outside gets tiring fast! And do you have any awesome plans for the summer?

Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum today!

Posted in musings

pastor barbara and the out-of-sync girl

Once upon a time there was a church which had a female pastor. Now, this pastor wasn’t the lead pastor, or even the primary teaching pastor; she led the family and children’s ministries, actually, and spent most of her ministry time with women and youth. But she had the title of pastor – Pastor Barbara.

She was beautiful. She had long, curly brown hair and a nose with that perfect spark of defiance bringing its straight lines singing up from her face. She had a gentle way of moving – never too fast or too sudden – and a gentle way of speaking – never too loud or too harsh. And when she saw the children she loved and taught and prayed for, her whole body would glow with that love and light, like an emanation of the Holy Spirit through her presence.

There was a small girl at this church who adored Pastor Barbara wholeheartedly and unstintingly, although mostly from a distance as she was a quiet child. She enjoyed above all the new songs that Pastor Barbara would sing with them! For her, songs were a release from the uncertainty of social interactions, because the songs (at least the children’s songs that she knew) would specify how you were supposed to act. Take for example “Father Abraham:” no one would ever move that way in everyday life, but the song says to do it so everyone does it and no one has to worry about being out of sync.

Continue reading “pastor barbara and the out-of-sync girl”

Posted in musings

suffering and the music of the church

I wonder if much “early” Christian music (well, it lasted long past the early years of the Church!) was some variation of chant because the Church was so aware of the brokenness of the world, and the chant allowed worshippers to lift up their voices in lament, in solidarity, in supplication, and, ultimately, in a hope devoid of false optimism. The tones of traditional chant are so haunting, so melancholy, and yet so natural to sing to – almost as natural as speaking – and I think those qualities reflect the way in which early Christians saw the world. They were close to its pain, suffering with it and for it and because of it, oppressed and persecuted, a misunderstood minority, laboring for the vulnerable and cast out, weeping with Christ for a world that they saw destroying itself. One cannot simultaneously be saving babies from abandonment to the elements and skipping around like nothing is wrong with the world; one cannot see friends and loved ones tortured and killed for their faith and still think that this life is a fountain of roses and rainbows.

So their music was born of the pain they saw (pain stemming from unredeemed sin in the world), the pain they felt (pain born of their own jarring disconnect with the culture around them), and the pain they remembered (pain that Jesus had endured on their behalf). It should be no surprise that it was a sorrowful and melancholy music, a music of prayer and supplication, of lament and mourning; we should expect that even their joy and hope would be colored by the sorrow they felt for a broken world and the pain they knew at their own persecution and suffering in that world. I wonder how we could re-introduce this spirit of worship (not necessarily the style) back into our Christian worship today, which (at least in the Evangelical circles I’m familiar with) tends to be buoyant, cheerful, excited, and positive. I don’t think those are bad things by any means – I think the church has much to be thankful for and much reason to give praise to God – but I do think that it tends to be the focus at bit too much of the time. Our constant obsession with the positive leaves us isolated when suffering comes, because we have never seen our community mourn together over the simple, everyday, sorrows and struggles of life in a fallen world. Instead, we see that the “Christian” thing to do is to give praise no matter what, to focus on the blessings no matter what, and to deny the pain and the brokenness.

There’s obviously a balance that’s needed, on a theological as well as a musical level. It is good to be reminded of the larger purpose and beauty of God’s plan when life is hard and things hurt; it’s not so good to feel like the worship service is a pep rally and our pain is out of place and unheard even by God. It is good to enter into the sufferings and laments of those who broken and hurting; it’s not so good to be left feeling that there is no cause for hope or joy or celebration in this life. But maybe if we learn from the Church throughout the ages, in all her many traditions, we might find a way to better balance the tendencies and weaknesses of our own age.

And now just for something incredibly beautiful and uplifting, even if you don’t think chant is your type of thing 🙂

(I’ve been learning a lot more about chant tones, notations, and how to chant prayers from David Clayton through his website The Way of Beauty and especially through his talk to the Institute of Catholic Culture, which, incidentally, I would highly recommend as a source of information about the history and theology of the Church from Biblical to modern times.)