12 of My Favorite Books on Parenthood (with a cross-cultural spin)

Though mentioning “parenting book” sometimes elicits groans and eye-rolling from many in society these days, I am the type of over-achieving ex-teacher who tried to read every book I could on parenting BEFORE I even gave birth. Needless to say, there are many books that did not make the cut.  The books below are less practical, more spiritual, less “do do do” and more about learning to have grace with yourself.

Many of the parenting books also have a cross-cultural element. One of the most freeing revelations I have had in my four years of parenting is: They do it differently in other countries. Several of the books on this list give a glimpse into how other cultures tackle some of the major parenting issues in ways that are often overlooked or even criticized in the western world.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (now with Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting), by Pamela Druckerman  
From Amazon: “When American journalist Pamela Druckerman had a baby in Paris, she didn’t aspire to become a “French parent.” But she noticed that French children slept through the night by two or three months old. They ate braised leeks. They played by themselves while their parents sipped coffee. And yet French kids were still boisterous, curious, and creative. Why? How?”

Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Fit to Burst is a book of parenting “field notes” written by a mom in the thick of it all. It is chock-full of humorous examples and fresh advice covering issues familiar to moms, such as guilt cycles, temptations to be ungrateful or bitter, enjoying your kids, and learning how to honor Jesus by giving even in the mundane stuff. But this book also addresses less familiar topics, including the impact moms have on the relationships between dads and kids, the importance of knowing when to laugh at kid-sized sin, and more. A thoughtful follow-up to Loving the Little Years, Rachel’s first book.”

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between)), by Mei-Ling Hopgood
From Amazon: “A tour of global practices that will inspire American parents to expand their horizons (and geographical borders) and learn that there’s more than one way to diaper a baby. Mei-Ling Hopgood, a first-time mom from suburban Michigan, now living in Buenos Aires, was shocked that Argentine parents allow their children to stay up until all hours of the night. Could there really be social and developmental advantages to this custom? Driven by a journalist’s curiosity and a new mother’s desperation for answers, Hopgood embarked on a journey to learn how other cultures approach the challenges all parents face: bedtimes, potty training, feeding, teaching, and more.”


Instant Mom, by Nia Vardalos
From Amazon: “In Instant Mom, Nia Vardalos, writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, tells her hilarious and poignant road-to-parenting story that eventually leads to her daughter and prompts her to become a major advocate for adoption.”

Long Days of Small Things, by Catherine McNeil

You can read my review of this book here, but here is an excerpt: “If you are a mother looking for a book that throws open the windows and invites pure, fresh, breathable air into the room of your soul, then you need to read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read books on motherhood like I was cramming for a test. I was determined to do it right. Now that I’m five years in, I’m realizing I don’t need to read books that add more for me to do, but books that validate me for what I’m already doing.”


Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Loving the Little Years is a bestselling book of thoughts for mothering young children. It’s written by a mom, for you moms — for when you are motivated, for when you are discouraged, for the times when discipline seems fruitless, and for when you are just plain old tired.”

Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother’s Heart and Hope, by Desiring God authors
From Amazon: “Are you mom enough? The cover of a popular magazine asked this haunting question in bold red letters that hung over the startling image of a young mother nursing her four-year-old. When the issue hit newsstands, it re-ignited a longstanding mommy war in American culture. But it turns out this was the wrong question, pointing in the wrong direction. There is a higher and more essential question faced by mothers: Is he God enough? This short book with twenty-four short contributions from seven young mothers, explores the daily trials and worries of motherhood. In the trenches, they have learned how to treasure God and depend on his grace. The paradox of this book is the secret power of godly mothering. Becoming mom enough comes as a result of answering the burning question above with a firm no.”

The Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope, compiled by Seth Haines
From Amazon: “After his wife Amber had given birth to three boys in three years, Seth Haines saw that she needed encouragement in the day-to-day drama and details of motherhood. Secretly collecting nearly six hundred wise, honest, and sometimes hilarious letters from other mothers across the world, Seth compiled these “mother letters” as a gift for her. Amber and Seth have chosen the best of those letters–including letters from some of the most influential writers and bloggers online today–to include in a beautiful book perfect for the mother in your life.”

The Mystery of Children: What Our Kids Teach Us about Childlike Faith, by Mike Mason
From Amazon: “Just as Mike Mason’s best-selling The Mystery of Marriage explored the parallels between marriage and our relationship with God, so does The Mystery of Children illuminate key spiritual truths modeled in the complex parent-child relationship. More than a manual on parenting, this book is for everyone who wishes to become childlike in heart or to be closer to children-two desires that are intimately and wondrously entwined.”

(The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason is my husband and my favorite marriage book, though it is definitely more abstract and spiritual than practical.)

Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, by Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D
From Amazon: “Research reveals that American kids lag behind in academic achievement, happiness, and wellness. Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not? This book takes us across the globe and examines how parents successfully foster resilience, creativity, independence, and academic excellence in their children”

Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls, by Gary L. Thomas
From Amazon: “Parenting is a school for spiritual formation, says author Gary Thomas, and our children are our teachers. The journey of caring for, rearing, training, and loving our children profoundly alters us forever…even when the journey is sometimes a rough one. Sacred Parenting is unlike any other parenting book on the market. This is not a “how-to” book that teaches readers the ways to discipline their kids or help them achieve their full potential. Instead of a discussion about how parents change their children, Sacred Parenting turns the tables and demonstrates how God uses children to change their parents.”

(Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas is another one of my favorite marriage books)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne
From Amazon: “Today’s busier, faster society is waging an undeclared war on childhood. With too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time, children can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems. Now internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. Simplicity Parenting offers inspiration, ideas, and a blueprint for change.”


Plus one documentary:  

Babies
From the film’s website: “Babies simultaneously follows four babies around the world – from birth to first steps. The children are, respectively, in order of on-screen introduction: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.”

What are your favorite books on marriage or parenting? 

**This post contains affiliate links.

The People Who Write Books

The crazy people write books, that’s who. Trying to write a book after spending two years as a writer of 800 to 1000 word blog posts is like running a marathon after training to be a sprinter.

I’ve been attempting to wake up and write at 5 am. Giving up our usual method of grinding beans and waiting for French press coffee, I pulled out the 12-cup automatic drip coffee maker. The smell of coffee yanks me out of bed, down the stairs and into my chair.

But as a mom to three young children, the time is too short. Just as I begin to swim away from the shore, out of the shallow end into the deeps, and finally start writing something real, it is 6:30 am. The children whine for breakfast, the baby needs to be nursed, it’s time to go out on a short run, or the laundry needs to be transferred from the washing machine to the dryer. I struggle to break out of the writing trance to get back to life as usual.

But on my run today, I thought about the small work that gets us to the end. Every morning that I wake up and pound out my 500 words, is like a notch in the wall, a foothold taking me higher up to the summit. Some weeks I feel depressed. Self-doubt and loathing threaten my resolve. My inner accusers challenge me, critiquing my every word, every sentence, every groggy minute spent away from my family, friends, or hobbies. Why are you wasting your time? they say.

But then God inevitably gives me a sign. Like the sun bursting through the spruce tree branches into the window over my kitchen sink in the morning, he creates a constellation out of the ordinary.

This autumn, Colorado experienced an uncharacteristic three weeks of dreary cloud cover and rain, which eats away at my soul more than other people since I suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It didn’t help that my three children, five and under, seemed bewitched.

So one night last week, I escaped the house at dusk, abandoning my husband to stories about talking animals, tooth-brushing, toileting, singing and prayers. I wandered the streets of our suburb, which was probably very attractive in 1979, gazing into windows and wondering how I got here.

I considered quitting writing.

I passed a yard with a small, green wooden box constructed on top of a pole–one of many little free libraries that have sprung up across the nation that invite the free exchange of magazines, literature, and trashy novels. Rifling through, I found a book. A strange, slim stranger among ordinary friends, it was a book so niche that I wondered if my husband had slipped in it in the box. It was exactly the book I needed for the next notch in the wall I am climbing towards writing this book proposal. I took it as a sign that I am on the right road.

Lately, my three year old daughter has been flapping her arms, running round and round the kitchen island, singing, “I fly through the sky and land on the ground!” over and over and over again. It is the mantra of a writer. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying through the sky, with words and images elevating me almost effortlessly, but most times I just feel like I’m walking with my feet firmly on the ground. I crunch dying leaves, get hit in the face by stray branches, act as referee for my children at the park and wipe oatmeal up off the floor that my daughter has dumped out.

“Look! Look at those geese!” my five year old son said earlier this week, pointing into the grey sky. Turning like he does to mansplain to my three year old daughter, he said, “They spell out words in the sky, like our last name, ‘Verner.'” I imagined all the things the geese would write if they could spell out messages for those of us on the ground to read.

I keep trying to quit, but God keeps sending new North Stars to guide me along my way. I am caught in the river current and swimming back is impossible. Earlier this week, Annie Dillard pushed me along, with these words:

“Why do you never find anything written about that idosynratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands?

Because it is up to you.

There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin.

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” —The Writing Life (p. 68)

So I’m showing up. I’m writing what only I can write. I’m giving voice to my own astonishment every morning at 5 am–even if it means I only end up with one decent paragraph. I’m walking with my feet on the ground, but trusting God to lift me up every once in a while and set my ordinary words to flight. Perhaps my words will speak to someone on the ground.

When Your Kid is the Bully

I watched with horror from a distance as my 5 year old son stalked two children much younger than he was and poured water on them—and their mother. For thirty seconds, I actually pretended he wasn’t my son. The museum was crowded and I had my other child with me. Maybe the mom would never know that little boy was my son. But when he started throwing wet straw on them, I knew I needed to intervene.

Another day, I looked across the park to find my son throwing mulch at two boys probably three years older than him. The boys had sticks taller than they were, and the boys were creeping closer to my son.

“WHAT was that all about?” I demanded, marching him away from the park.

“I told them I wanted to fight,” he said.

Shaking my head, I inwardly vowed to never go to the park again.

A few months ago, my two year old daughter pushed another girl off of the play structure that was higher than I am tall. I happened to not be on my phone, cooing at my baby or gabbing away with another mom and I caught the girl by her dress—just one foot off the ground.

What’s worse than having your child get bullied at the playground? When your child IS the bully.

The best advice I have received as a parent happened one day as my kid was losing it at the grocery store. I don’t remember which child, though it could have been any one of the three. A woman pulled her cart up to mine, looked me in the eye and said this,

“Just remember, it’s their age, not their personality.”

Thank God, because at this rate my children will be horrible, selfish, out-of-control human beings. OR they are acting exactly their age.

Growing up, we must have watched the movie Overboard a hundred times. In it, Goldie Hawn’s children are especially terrible. But when the teacher at school begins to complain about them, her character, Annie, jumps to their defense. “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE,” she says.

A bad week of feeling like a failure as a mother demands that I spin this story towards the spiritual. Because for my sanity, I sometimes just need to dig around in the mud for meaning in mundane life. Here’s what I got:

As unruly, loud, obnoxious, disobedient, frustrating and obstinate as my children can (often) be, God has just as much a right to label me as “rotten” to my core. And yet just as I cannot really walk away from my children (though I’m tempted to pretend they aren’t mine), God doesn’t disown us just because of bad behavior. Again, thank God.

God loves bullies just as much as he loves the bullied. The Bible says it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. To all who condemn God’s children, he responds, “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE!”

Perhaps my children acting out is forcing me to wrestle my own perfectionism to the ground. Because sometimes I care more about other people thinking I’m a good mother than I do about actually being a good mother. And God won’t let me get away with that attitude.

So while I am tempted to confine my children at home for the remainder of their days as children, staying in our safe playground in our private backyard, I will continue to risk badness at our neighborhood park. My children leave me open to attack by other bystanders who have their phones out, ready to mom shame. Or, more likely, out of the ashes of my smoldering pride, a new friendship may be born out of the many “me, too” moments shared only by parents who have been there.

So, yes, my child just hit your child. I am sorry and I am doing the best that I can to teach them to be decent human beings. But before we label them, let’s wait and see what the next twenty years will do for their impulse control. God knows I’m still a work in progress, so I’m trusting my children are, too.

When Your Kid is the Bully

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool this Year (and Are Doing a ‘Gap Year’ Instead)

I sent my first son to preschool two days a week before he even turned three. In spite of a twinge of grief and guilt as I dropped him off that first day, I know we both did a little skip when I left—him running to plunge his hands into the sensory bin filled with items I wouldn’t let near my house and me rushing home to put my daughter down for her nap and a glorious hour and a half of silence.

As an educator myself, I don’t need to be convinced that preschool is a good idea. It is fabulous. Structure, another adult to listen to and obey, friends to be made and exposure to more of life outside of the sphere of our home. Preschool is a wonderful way for kids to learn, grow and be socialized.

But this year, we are opting out of preschool.

I recognize that even having the option of sending or not sending my child to preschool and being a stay-at-home parent is a result of my privilege. I erased my last fourth-grade homework chart off the dry-erase board of our school nearly five years ago–just weeks before my first son was born–and I haven’t received a paycheck since (*sob*). But I want to acknowledge that I am a privileged person simply because I have the choice to work or not work.

For the most part, preschool in Colorado is not free, so money is a large factor in why we aren’t doing it this year.

But I also suddenly realized that unless I homeschool (which I’m not planning to), we will be bound to a school schedule for the next 18 years.

But we have this one year before that happens.

Just one year before we will be racing around in the mornings to get a child out of the house. One year before the school supplies, fieldtrip permission slips, picture money, parent conferences and other parent-child-school responsibilities begin. A week into madly researching a viable preschool option for my three and almost-five-year-olds, wondering how I’d juggle drop-offs and pick-ups with a one-year-old, the thought occurred to me…

What if we did something crazy, and just took a free year—a gap year? A year to be a little tribe and explore, play, learn and grow together?

Before kids, I was an upper elementary and middle school teacher—early education was not my thing. But I’m hoping by surrendering to the mess, stress, slowness and simplicity, I’ll fall in love with these little years. And perhaps we’ll build a strong foundation together before they begin to totter out of the nest into public school.

Here are some ideas I have for the coming year.

Play

This one is hard for me. It is nearly impossible for me to sit on the floor with my children and not start organizing toys. But I’m going to attempt to let go, give in and learn to play with my children this year. This year, I resolve to:

  • Allow lots of free play. I finally surrendered the couch cushions to the minions. They have their own pile in the sunroom now.
  • Visit all the parks in our city.
  • Sing and dance. My son has a CD player and all the CD’s are scratched, but they can really break it down.
  • Get outside every day—spend time in the front and back yard, go to parks, go on walks around the neighborhood or visit nature areas around town.

Explore

We are in a new city, so there is much to explore. But you might be surprised what you’ll find when you become a tourist in your own town.

  • Visit all the Little Free Libraries in our city. We always have a stack of books to give away. We’re going to ride bikes or drive around to visit all of these we can.
  • Go on hikes and nature walks. My kids whine the first fifteen minutes of a “hike,” but usually find rocks, bugs and flowers to distract them pretty quickly. The baby rides in the ergo for this one.
  • Attend free festivals and concerts. Denver is just an hour away, but our city has plenty to keep us busy year-round.
  • Go to the children’s museum, zoo and other museums in and around our city. Instead of blowing all their grandparent Christmas and birthday money on gifts that just get lost and clutter up our house, I usually use 70 percent of it on museum or zoo passes.
  • Visit a fire station or create our own fieldtrips.
  • Find out about other languages and cultures. We’ll be attending the international women’s club on a weekly basis, so this helps with that. We’re also hoping to have an international student live with us this year.
  • Visit the grandparents in the mountains.

Read

  • Go to the library once a week and attend library story times.
  • Intentionally read some books each week with people of color as the main characters.
  • Read books together daily—big books and little books. We just finished James and the Giant Peach and are doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next.
  • Listen to audio books. My son has enjoyed Magic Tree House so far.
  • Have them read quietly at certain times of the day (ha).

Create

I don’t do well with messes. This is one of the things I loved best about preschool—the teacher did all the messy things with my son so I never had to feel guilty about not doing those things. But this year I’m going for it. We bought an easel at Ikea, lots of washable paints and markers, rolls of paper and all kinds of random objects at Hobby Lobby to glue onto paper to make collages. We’re doing it. The goal is for all of us to have glitter, paint or marker on our bodies at all times just to prove we are artists (okay, maybe not glitter).

  • Draw
  • Paint (my kids hate finger painting, but we’ll probably try again)
  • Make necklaces
  • Glue things to paper—like pasta, tiny pieces of paper, feathers, nature items,
  • Bake
  • Do one pinterest craft a week (*slight cringe* #notapinterestmom)
  • Make puppets and masks
  • Play with sand (LOVE this crazy sand–as long as it’s on a sweepable surface), water, playdough, clay and other sensory items

Serve

  • Bake something for a neighbor or homeless person and deliver it once a week.
  • Visit a nursing home.
  • Attend the international women’s club each week at the nearby college.
  • Visit with elderly neighbors.
  • Have people over for dinner and have the kids help make it.
  • Practice random acts of kindness together.

Relax

  • Stay home at least one day a week.
  • Take our time going places.
  • Throw out schedules every once in a while—allow naps in the car, stay up late and have movie nights, wear PJ’s until 2 pm, take baths in the middle of the day.

 

Notice I don’t have a “learn” category. This year, I want to focus on my children learning experientially. Will we do letters, numbers and reading? Of course, because those things happen organically in life and we’ll talk about them when they do. But I am not planning on having a structured “school time” each day or week other than my kids attending Bible study and church each week.

Opting out of preschool is a slightly terrifying prospect to me, and yet I’m excited for margins in our days to lean into life.  Because we are not paying for preschool, we can afford a sitter one morning a week so I can write, but the other days (thanks to my husband who works full-time), our time is flexible. And as much as I would have loved a few hours with a few less kids a week, the thought of a year of freedom to live, explore, create, read, serve and relax sounds pretty amazing, too.

I’ll be writing about our experience periodically and sharing reviews about the books we check out at the library, so subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch!

Here we go. Let the adventures begin.

Leslie

*Includes Amazon affiliate links

Why we're not doing preschool this year--and all that we'll be doing instead.

 

Doe, a Deer, A Female Deer {for SheLoves}

I published this earlier this month at SheLoves Magazine. Click over to read the full article!

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” –Mother Superior, The Sound of Music

Currently, I am in a season with many walls, few doors, and quite a few windows to the outside world—taunting me by what I’m allegedly missing. I’ve been here before—as a teenager trapped in my parent’s home, as a college student waiting for my life to begin, as a thirty-year-old single woman (with a sex drive and ticking biological clock) surrounded by families, as a teacher going on to the next year because it was expected. And now I’m here as a mother to three littles, walled-in by naptimes, temper tantrums and mind-numbing routines.

Perhaps you’re here, too, though your walls may look different than mine. Illness, job insecurity, infertility, a sick parent or another impossible circumstance may leave you feeling trapped against your will, walled-in and alone. You have underutilized gifts, unfulfilled callings and pent-up passions.

Part of what I’m realizing is that just because strength, intelligence or giftings are harnessed for a time doesn’t mean they are weakened or disappear. In fact, Old Mother Maturity is still at work on our juvenile souls, training us by her delays and uncomfortable restrictions.

Last week I eased my minivan out of our driveway into the cul-de-sac and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. Poised like a queen was a huge doe, beaming her gaze directly at me. But the most alarming part was that she stood trapped inside my neighbor’s fenced yard.

How did she get in there? I thought. And how will she get out?

The image haunted me all day long. It took a while to decode my emotions, but when I did, I accepted this living parable as a gift to me in my current season. It was as if God was saying,

“I see you.

Yes, you are fenced in right now, unable to travel far or do so much of what you thought you would do with your life. But the fact that you are restricted does not diminish your strength. And it does not mean you will be here forever.”

That doe was strength under control. She was choosing containment just as I am choosing it now for the sake of my little people.

And through forfeited freedom, I am learning the richness of soulful living.

Science calls this “potential energy.” Potential energy is the energy an object has because of its position, rather than its motion. It is a bicycle perched on a hill, a nearly poured-out pitcher of water or a book balanced on someone’s head. It is a doe behind a fence. It is harnessed energy, ready to explode into action. It is doors slammed shut, waiting for windows to be thrown open …Continue reading at SheLoves …

Small Sticky Hands Lead Me to Jesus {for The Redbud Post}

Last summer, hugely pregnant with my third child, I took my 1- and 3-year-olds on a walk every afternoon. I’d saunter along behind them, absently resting my hand on my taut belly, hoping to receive some communication in the form of a heel or shoulder blade in my palm. My head ached from the dry Colorado heat, and every joint and ligament protested at being stretched to capacity. I had no delight left in me, so I drank in the delight of my children, filling my own empty reservoir with their joy.

We spent over an hour on a half mile stretch of concrete path that wound behind our neighborhood. The path only extended another half mile beyond that and was barricaded by a chain-link fence, though there were rumors the city planned on extending the path one day.

On these walks, my kids would lie on the sidewalk, watching ants and poking roly-polies until they curled into a ball. They’d pick dandelions by the fist-full and stuff their pockets with ruby red berries I hoped weren’t poisonous. Wild, brown bunnies would dart out of bushes and skitter away as my son and daughter chased them under fences.

For once, I was glad to roam at the rhythm of my children. The first four years of motherhood had been a constant tension: my kids wanted to go slow; I wanted to go fast. They wanted to savor simple pleasures; I wanted the adventurous life I had lived before children. They wanted to play; I wanted to be productive.

But last summer, I finally surrendered. My children won the battle for slow, small and simple.

So now, instead of resenting them for weighing me down, holding me back, and stunting my growth, I’m starting to accept that my children are not a burden. In fact, they are teaching me how to live.

My children are my wonder-catchers. They are my sieve—capturing every small, insignificant, glorious life particle before it can slip away. Like getting eyeglasses for the first time, my children magnify life, bringing every bug, spider web, sparkly rock, quirky person, and familiar place into sharp clarity. We do not go far or fast, but they are teaching me to marvel at the mysteries of a God hidden in plain sight. As a writer and worshiper of God, slowness is a gift, for I am honing the ability to notice and delight.

I’ve had these prophetic words by Madeleine L’Engle scribbled into my prayer journal since my pre-kid years. I never knew their fulfillment would come in the form of motherhood:

“Slow me down, Lord … When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening” (Walking on Water 13).

In my former life, I was a doer. I led, organized, taught, and planned. I lived in other countries, got my masters, traveled alone on 27-hour train rides across China, and spoke other languages. But it turns out God was not impressed. Instead, he wanted to teach me how to be nearsighted again. He wanted to slow me down. Not just so I could see his work in the world, but so I could hear his still, small voice …

Continue reading at The Redbud Post

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Love Like a Fool {A Review of Redeeming Ruth}

As a mother, I admit I was nervous to read a book about losing a child. In fact, I confess I skipped ahead to find out what happened to Ruth just so I wouldn’t be anxious the entire book. My mama heart didn’t have the capacity to wait two hundred pages for the details of a tragic death. But in a way, knowing from page one about Ruth’s death helped launch me into this story about a family from Maine who became accidental parents to a disabled girl from Uganda. I had so many questions.

Meadow Rue Merrill, a professional journalist, expertly guides the reader into this compelling tale of love through dynamic dialogue and word wizardry in Redeeming Ruth.

As a memoir, Meadow’s thoughts, feelings and reactions to adopting an African girl with special needs are both authentic and believable. Although this story is not commonplace, it was extremely accessible and did not feel like she was placing her family on a pedestal, like so many Christian memoirs can feel. Instead, Meadow shares with humility how they first met Ruth, questioned whether they had what it took to adopt her, and then revealed all the emotional and physical roadblocks they encountered along the way. This book does not read like a story about a family with super-human strength, but a family that could just as easily be yours or mine. It was a story about a simple family who learned that love could sustain them even through hardship and loss.

If you love memoir, are interested in adoption or Africa, or work with children with special needs, then you will find this story particularly compelling. Meadow dispels many myths about international adoption as she chronicles the sticky details of adopting Ruth from Uganda. I personally loved the vibrant descriptions of people and places in Africa since I spent six months in Uganda during college. Her words helped me to see the buses, feel the dust on my toes and greet my amazing friends there once again.

I also appreciated learning about the hurdles and small victories involved in caring for a child with special needs. Having this window into their world reminded me to offer support to friends and family I have who may be caring for children with additional needs.

If you love a good story where God appears in miraculous ways, then you will find yourself engrossed in this true tale of selfless love. If you—like me—are a mother who is afraid to read a book about losing a child, this will remind you to hug your children tighter and savor every moment you have with them. And though the story is gut-wrenching, their grief is equally weighted with hope.

Reading Redeeming Ruth was a gift. I felt honored to be invited into such a beautiful journey of surprising joy in the midst of struggle and sadness.  It was a welcome reminder of how one little life can impact so many.

Meadow challenges her readers at the end of Redeeming Ruth:

“Love like a fool, without considering what such love will cost. You won’t have to look far to find someone who is hurting, someone without a voice, someone waiting to know that they are loved” (p. 204).

You can buy Redeeming Ruth here.

**Includes Amazon affiliate links

In the Fire {for Faith Notes}

The park ranger peers up, pointing to the tops of the Lodgepole Pines standing like guards at the Rocky Mountain tree line. “See those pinecones at the top?”

I squint, attempting to be mentally present while my body warns me my infant son an hour away will be hungry soon.

“Those are called serotinous cones. They’re covered in resin and store their seeds until triggered by a forest fire.” He continues hiking and I pause a second longer, struck by a rare moment of mental clarity in an otherwise foggy time of life. I reflect on the past five years as a mother to three children, four and under.

At 31, I had given up on love. Living in the middle-of-nowhere China, I refused to forfeit my ambition for a man. In fact, I pitied women who sacrificed their dreams for marriage.

And then I met Adam. He was everything I had hoped for in a man, but was like finding the perfect home in the wrong neighborhood. He felt no pull to live overseas. But I knew we belonged together and within two years I was married, unemployed and pregnant.

Motherhood consumed my identity like a ravenous fire.In pregnancy, skin stretched to obscene proportions. Feet, face and hands swelled. Hormones swung faster than a preschooler on a swing set. “Come back when you think you’re dying,” the midwife said. We thought she was being dramatic. We were wrong. Pain screamed, then new life sang. One life split into two …

 

Continue reading at Faith Notes

(Also featured at The Times Record)

Are You Done Having Children?

People love to ask this question. And I’ve been thinking about my answer.

***

Uncapping the black sharpie marker, I scribble a price on the neon green garage sale sticker: $4.00. Placing the tag on the light brown maternity dress, grief suddenly tackles me. I don’t know if I can do this…

This dress was the first piece of maternity clothing I ever purchased back when my body barely revealed a bump. In the Target dressing room, I stuffed my bag under the dress to try and imagine what my body might look like with a tiny human curled inside me. It seemed so surreal.

The dress was a staple in my maternity wardrobe through the wilting heat of three summers in six years. I wore it while in labor from Monday to Friday with my son, the week we determined I was a “slow laborer.” And I was wearing it the day I barely made it to the hospital to give birth to my daughter nearly two years later. I had been in labor 48 hours, but had chosen to ignore the squeezing contractions until I couldn’t anymore. “Now.” I demanded to my reluctant husband, who was remembering the long days of labor with my son. “She’s coming now, so we need to go.”

“Let’s check how far along you are,” the midwife said just minutes after we got to the hospital, pulling on her gloves. “Oop! There’s the head! You’re ready!” she said.

“Do you want to change clothes?” the nurse asked. “Your dress might get ruined.” I let her help me into the gigantic green hospital gown just in time to push out a tiny pink stranger just 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital. My sweet daughter was born on a brilliant sunny day in Chicago in July. And this was the dress I wore just minutes before she entered the world.

Folding the dress and placing it on the pile of other maternity clothes I’ve acquired over the years, the sadness hit.

Is this stage of pink lines appearing on a plastic pregnancy test, baby kicks, musical heart-beat checks and sacred, powerful, life-ripping childbirth really over? Are these the final days of having a tiny squishy body curled against me in bed as I nurse at dawn before the rest of the house wakes? Is it the end of magical baby giggles, laughing at the grimaces babies make as they try new foods or clapping like fools when your child experiences all the “firsts”?

Are we really done having children? And how do we know when we’re done?

I’m still not sure. All my reasons for having a third child obviously still apply for a fourth or fifth or any number of children we may want to have. But here’s why I’m thinking we’re done.

Mainly because in spite of my hesitancy to have an odd number of children, I’ve been surprised by how complete the number three feels. Sitting at a restaurant, when I see a family with two children, I find myself thinking “Not enough.” But when I see four, without even realizing it, I think, “Too many.” So I think—for us—three is the Goldilocks amount of children. “Just right.”

But I also feel I don’t have the capacity—physically, mentally or spiritually — for another baby at my age (I’m 38). My last pregnancy spun me into depression and my body has felt like it aged five years with each baby. I fear another pregnancy would break me.

But having “just” three children also leaves wiggle room for other people God may bring to our home. Just as I always want to have a guest room in our house, I know my heart only has so many rooms available, so setting this limit may ensure I’ll have the space to offer a place at our table to anyone who needs a temporary family. I often pray God will give us the capacity to extend our arms around anyone God brings into our life. Perhaps not having a baby in my belly or nursing on my breast will free me to nurture those who are not my own children.

My other two children are enjoying having more of me again. My baby is now eight months old and more interested in exploring the world through his hands, mouth and however far his chubby legs will take him as he crawls from drawer to cabinet, shoving every stray cheerio in his mouth along the way. He is no longer content to sit still.

Not always having a baby on my lap means more of me for the other two. The times when I force myself to stop folding laundry, picking up clutter or organizing toys and simply sit on the floor to be physically and mentally present with my kids, a child always ends up climbing into my lap. They have missed me. I push away the guilt that creeps in, accusing me of neglecting my two and four-year-olds during the past year of being hugely pregnant or nursing around the clock. They have learned to be more independent and are discovering they have a built-in playmate when mommy is busy with the baby. But they are still little and need me.

So for all those who are asking, I’m saying I am 98 percent sure we are done. As stressful, painful, stretching (in so many ways) and difficult as pregnancy, childbirth and the baby stage have been, I have loved it. I really have. There were moments in my twenties and even as I turned thirty and was still very single, when I wondered if I would ever have children. Once I married, I convinced myself I would have fertility problems. I wanted to shield myself from disappointment. So many of my friends had miscarried or had problems getting pregnant that I wanted to be prepared.

But after five months of waiting, on a cold December morning, I woke my husband up, jumping back in bed with a huge grin on my face.

“I’m pregnant.”

And so I want to celebrate this gift and grieve the passing of such a sacred, special time of life. It has not felt like it “went fast,” but I do wish I could bottle up the magic and open it up every once in a while.

Wouldn’t you love to relive the moment you found out you were pregnant for the first time and you walked around all day with the most amazing secret you’d ever carried? I wish I could encapsulate the feeling of those first butterfly flutters and finally the indignant kicks from a silent being that drew life from my body. Or relive holding my baby for the first time, staring with wonder that there actually was a life inside me all that time. Time suspended and reality spun in those early hours of precious life.

Motherhood is a holy experience. Nothing scrapes the ceiling of the divine like pregnancy and childbirth. Giving birth and being a mother to these three souls has been the honor and joy of my life.

I place the stack of clothes with the brown dress in the large plastic bin, labeling it “maternity” and slide it over to join the pile of baby clothes I’m also pre-grieving the loss of. I walk over to the rug, plop down and grab my first son, wrapping my arms around him and tucking his long legs into my lap. “Do you know how much I love you?” I whisper. He smiles. Yes. He knows.

Blurry picture and squinty eyes, but this is the dress!

Are we really done having children? And how do we know when we’re done?

Motherhood as Spiritual Practice? {A Review of Long Days of Small Things}

Book Review: If you are a mother looking for a book that throws open the windows and invites pure, fresh, breathable air into the room of your soul, then you need to read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

“With all its joys, trials, and demands, motherhood is packed full of spiritual practices.” –Catherine McNeil, Long Days of Small Things

If you are a mother looking for a book that throws open the windows and invites pure, fresh, breathable air into the room of your soul, then you need to read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read books on motherhood like I was cramming for a test. I was determined to do it right. Now that I’m five years in, I’m realizing I don’t need to read books that add more for me to do, but books that validate me for what I’m already doing.

What This Book Will NOT Do

This book will not add to your to do list. It will not heap on guilt about all the ways you are not doing enough, teaching enough, or being enough of a godly woman for your children. It will not tell you how to discipline, potty train or feed your child in ten easy steps. Instead, this book will prove to you that you are already living a holy life through simply being a mother. That perhaps God intended all along to intersect with you in these small, seemingly insignificant moments in time that make up the life of a mother.

Who Should Read this Book?

This book was perfect for me right now as a mother to three little ones, four and under. I don’t think it would impact a brand new mom as much since she hasn’t yet experienced the frustration of a Target tantrum or spent a year without sleep. But it might still make a great gift for a new mama who will find it on her shelf one day when she’s desperate for encouragement while nursing her third baby in the middle of the night (ahem). Although McNeil attempts to include women who adopt, I think it would be difficult for a mother who did not give birth biologically to read the parts about pregnancy and childbirth.

This book is ideal for the weary mom who is a few years in, wondering what happened to her life, and needs a fresh look at her world. Every once in a while I need a book to spiritualize the ordinary. When I first got married, the book The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason did that for me. Now, five years in to motherhood, this book was exactly what I needed to remind me who I am and why I’m doing this.

What I Loved

The book cycles through the different aspects of motherhood, illuminating the sacred beauty in sex, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and even in menstruation. It reads like a love poem to our female bodies and all they were created to do; our days validated as holy even in their monotony. Each chapter begins and ends with scripture. Throughout the book, McNeil weaves in stories of mothers from the Bible and draws out verses and stories that focus on the parental heart of God.

But along with the gorgeous imagery, McNeil also provides simple practices to increase awareness of the divine through breathing, walking, being fully present in the moment, eating, night vigils, drinking and cooking. She offers suggestions for turning even the most unlikely circumstances into spiritual practices. Daily rituals of motherhood such as changing diapers, feeding children, driving kids around and dealing with clutter become opportunities to connect with God.

I have never read a book about motherhood that made me feel so validated and empowered as a woman as Long Days of Small Things (and I’ve read a lot). Far from feeling like a second-class citizen who is missing out on so much of life because I spend my days with little ones, McNeil made me feel like I am privileged to have the mystical experience of creating, sustaining, supporting and caring for another soul.

What I most appreciated about this book was that it reminded me that motherhood is a beautiful, sacred gift to cherish. Though we can feel we are wandering in the wilderness during this season with little ones, McNeil assures us we are exactly where God means us to be. She writes,

“In motherhood we are not furthest from the practices of faith as it seems, but at the center. In this spiritual desert we touch the very pinnacle of spiritual practice.” –Catherine McNeil, Long Days of Small Things

 

You can buy Long Days of Small Things here or the audio book on Audible here! (my hubs is an audio book narrator, so I gotta give a shout-out to the audio version!)

Check out Catherine’s post this week at SheLoves.

 

**Contains Amazon affiliate links