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Waking Up Together

waking up :: sarah bessey

Our littlest baby started her night life, sleeping right beside our bed in the same white bassinette as her brother and sisters and cousins. But now she is four months old and, like all Bessey babies, she’s a tall girl plus she rolls over like it’s her job so we moved her white crib into our room.

She goes to sleep for the night at about 7 o’clock in that crib. I’m a softie of a mum in many regards but I hold the line on a few things: sleep and routine being the two biggest, I think. So she nurses in bed with me and then I lay her down in her crib where she sleeps steady until the middle of the night. A few times she’s slept right through the night and I sing hallelujah. Usually though, I can hear her stirring before she even fully wakes up sometimes and, while nearly asleep myself, I rise from our bed and move to her, settling her back to sleep. If the soother won’t do, I lift her out of bed and bring her into our warm bed to nurse. I find sleeping with babies more intuitive and restful than fighting to keep a lonely baby in her own crib all night long. I need my sleep, too.

Inevitably, we will fall asleep together in my bed during the wee hours and then in the morning, we will wake up together.

This might be my favourite moment of the day. If she wakes first, she never cries, she lays there quietly watching my face and then she begins to paw at me with her not-yet-coordinated hands, reaching for me in her own way. Her firm little body is chubby and warm, zipped into her little sleeper.  I feel the light scratches and pushes but when my eyes blearily open and I look right at her, she breaks into the wide open smile of a happy baby, all baby gums and delight and squeals.

It’s a good way to start the day, to make someone so happy just by being awake and paying attention.

I want to laugh out loud at the sight of her grinning up at me. It almost makes up for the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. (Almost.)

Our life is pretty full here. Throughout the day, Maggie Love is just along for the ride and that’s as it should be. The big kids adore her but they are busy and loud and demanding, too. She is woken up from naps more than I would like, the doors are slamming as everyone is in-and-out-and-in-and-out with the summertime ease. I work from home and so often she sits in her swing or plays on her little baby-mat while I cram in a few minutes of work here and there.

But at night, we sleep together and then we wake up together.

This is our time. While the rest of the house sleeps, we are breathing each other in.

My attention might be fractured during the day but we do find our moments – thanks to nursing, babywearing, or if we go visit my parents and then my mother sits and holds her for her late afternoon nap, patting her bum in the rhythm that has been passed down through the ages while rocking slowly. The night is the most sacred: the way our bodies fit together, I curl around her, she presses into me, her little tummy is full, we breathe together and rest at last.

We’re well-practiced by now, my husband and me, at this and now we know how quickly it goes, how soon they grow up and sleep in their own little beds and the earth continues to spin us around the sun. The babies who used to sleep in our beds are nearly nine and nearly seven and four. We will blink again and it will be first jobs and first dates.

So he always says that it’s one of the favourite sights of his life, the sight of the little babies we’ve made pressed against me in the morning, laying in white cotton sheets, my shirt all askew, and he wraps his arms around us both. The day will launch ahead quickly – he’s off to work, the tinies will tumble into the day, and away we all go.

We had thought we were done with this stage of life, so we are savouring every moment of the last little baby together. Store it up, we say, carry it in your heart. This will have to last us a lifetime. Someday our bed will be empty again at the right time, it will be just us two. I imagine us, grey and wrinkled, and he will say “do you know what the favourite sight of my life was?” and I will know the answer.

But for another little while, this is what it feels like to sleep with your sweet littlest babe, this is what it feels like to wake up to your own life, this is what it feels like to be in love.

photo by Sharalee Prang

Continue Reading · Maggie Love, parenting · 23

What’s your motivation?

what is your motivation? :: sarah bessey

Rewind 20 years or so – here is the quickest way to make me roll my eyes so hard they nearly fall out of my teenaged head: “What’s your motivation?”

This is the question that my parents asked us repeatedly when we were children and particularly when we were teenagers and young adults, learning to make our own decisions. If I was shirking responsibility, if I was allowing other things to take the place of studying, if I was ditching a friend, if we were disrespectful, if I was filling my mind and heart with things that they felt didn’t lined up with my values, whatever – instead of laying down the law and “because I said so!”-ing us, they opened the conversation with that one question. “What’s your motivation for that?”

And then, well, crap. Because now I had some responsibility for the decisions I was making, for the life I was leading. I had to explain myself and my reasons. Sometimes they were legit and once they understood why I was doing what I was doing, they were content to let me get on with it. Other times, that question illuminated my own heart to me and it caused me to make a change.

Even though my sister and I made fun of it, claimed to hate it, made it the butt of our jokes, or denied any motivation whatsoever at times, I’m not at all surprised that I now find myself asking myself often: “What’s your motivation?”

***

Motivation is a tricky thing. We can’t really assign it to one another, we never truly know what motivates someone else. We can’t truly understand each other’s reasons for doing what we do.

A good thing done with shoddy motivation is still a good thing after all; an imperfect thing done with a pure heart is often still worthy of censure.

Often our motives are mixed to our own selves. So of course motivation is opaque to a world that judges solely on results, a world that often values big more than small, loud over quiet, pretty over plain, big numbers over slow growth.

When Samuel sought out a king for Israel, God cautioned him in this way: Man looks on the outward appearance: God looks at the heart.

***

This question exposes my motives often – if I’m actually willing to be honest with myself. There’s the tricky part, right? We deceive our own selves just as much as we deceive one another sometimes.

***

I find myself asking this question a lot as we raise our children. I ask it of our tinies, absolutely. Because like my own parents, I want them to learn how to examine their lives, their hearts.

I am wary of children whose behaviour is immaculate but whose hearts are unknown to them – or to me. I want them to learn how to challenge their own selves instead of relying on outsiders to do that holy work. I want them to hold up their hearts and minds to the light of Scripture and the ways of our Jesus and then ask their own questions of themselves. Only they can answer as to their motives: I can only help them get in the practice of asking.

But I also ask it of myself as I parent them: am I motivated by what is best for them, for their hearts and minds and lives particularly for the long game?

You’d be surprised how often I wrestle with parenting for an unseen and non-existent audience of people judging how I parent, how often I can be deceived into feeling like their goodness will somehow make me good. Am I requiring this or that behaviour because it’s actually best for them? or because its best for me?

***

I think the Church as a whole would be better off if we asked ourselves a bit more about our motives. And if we were honest about them.

Imagine that.

***

I think there is truth, I do. I don’t think that having a “good motivation” somehow wipes away sin or deception or evil, never ever. Any kind of abuse or wrong-doing is still abhorrent. Claiming “I never meant to hurt anyone” means nothing or “my motives were pure” will not erase consequences.

It’s just that besides that obviousness, I think there is a lot more wiggle room in the faith than we realise. There isn’t one way to pray, one way to worship, one way to encounter God. There isn’t one way to raise good kids or one way to dress or one way to sing or one way to help the world or to work.

I have friends who do this faith-Jesus-church thing very differently than me. I know that they love me even though I jump their fence sometimes with my opinions, my ideas, my beliefs. They give me the benefit of knowing that I love Jesus and if I’m wrong, well, if I keep chasing after Jesus and they do the same, you’d be surprised how often we end up calling it all good.

***

Make room in your life for the ones who do things in a way you would consider “wrong” or even just differently. Their motivation before God may be pure as snow, as the night sky, as a mountain waterfall. And God is pleased with their heart. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that freedom? Oh, what a relief. To the pure all things are pure.

***

I am not someone who believes that God has a blueprint for our lives. I think there is freedom and choice for us – this is the great gift and the great difficulty. And so whatever way we go, God is breathing in the path, love will redeem. There is wide open space in our lives and the answers we seek often aren’t “right” or “wrong” but instead, what is wise and what feels like the best choice and where is God leading me? If our motives are to love God and to love people, to not seek our own interests, then the path is wide open. Go with God.

So this way of thinking, this question, has become another way for me to feel my way through the sometimes twilight of this life. A guide perhaps even if it is not the final destination.

***

I think it’s a question we don’t ask of ourselves enough, we don’t examine our motives. Our fears hide within our motives, our insecurities and our hidden desires. Those aren’t necessarily wrong things, not at all. But isn’t it better to know? Isn’t it better to admit it? I want this because I am scared or because I feel unseen or because I feel neglected or because I want friends or because I want to feel important.

***

A minor and unimportant case in point: I wrote this post and I originally titled it in a regular sort of way, as I usually do. (I may have finally retired “In which…” as a title prefix but I still write rather boring titles, I think we can all admit that.) So I thought, well, I should try to get better at titling!

How about… “The One Question You Need To Be Asking”?

“This One Simple Question Will Change! Your! Life!!!!”

(!!!!)

Sure, why not, right?  It feels a bit disingenuous but whatever, right? This is blogging, this is what we do! #ClickBait

What’s your motivation for that sort of a title? because I want people to read it. I want people to click on the post. I want to be popular and well-read and well-liked. I want to be noticed and have a lot of shares on Facebook. If I title things like that then people will read them. It’s basic marketing, folks. And if more people read it, then surely that will make me feel successful!

(!)

Okay then.

And I can admit that that motivation flies in the face of what I actually really believe: success is faithfulness, success is obedience, success is the fruit of the Spirit in operation in my life, success is not settling for manipulation or platform-building as a substitute for the organic movement and slow burn of the Spirit that lasts.

But to someone else, someone whose motives are more pure perhaps, it’s not a big deal. Add your exclamation points! and you won’t believe what happens next!

To the pure, all things are pure. This one is all on me and my motives for such things.

Back to boring titles.

***

And then once we know the truth about our motives for our actions – good or bad – can’t we then hold that up to the fresh air and ask for the wind of the Spirit to blow away the chaff, leaving us with the wheat kernels of goodness? And what remains after we is something pure and good and worthwhile, a seed worth planting, a path worth walking even if we walk alone.

 

This post is part of an ongoing series about the words and phrases my parents gave to me.

Series intro

Guard Your Gates

Have Your Own Truck

Continue Reading · faith, parenting · 13

Have your own truck :: On empowering our children

Empower your children :: Sarah Bessey

When I got my drivers license at 16 years old, my dad and mum bought us two girls a 1979 Ford half-ton. Our truck was brown, it weighed more than a building, and we named him Frank the Gas Monster. I went to work at a little retail store in the mall 20 hours a week while in high school because we were expected to put gas in Frank  – no small task with dual gas tanks. (Yes, we lived in Alberta and old trucks were cheap back then, how did you guess?)

Since I was the only driver until my sister got her license, I had to shuttle my sister around, too – which wasn’t a problem since we were close in age, best friends, and we had the same social circle. I drove us to school, to church, to youth group events, to parties, to camping trips with our friends, out on double dates with our boyfriends.

Having a kid who drives is convenient for a busy family, absolutely. And it was great to have wheels. But the main reason why my parents made sure we had a vehicle?

They wanted us to be in charge of our own selves.

They were determined that we would never be reliant on anyone else for a ride home, especially not a date, especially if a date went bad. If we ever wanted to leave a party early, we got to leave when we wanted to leave. They knew we could be counted on to drive safely: it wasn’t an option for us to be getting into a car with God knows who driving like a bat out of hell.

They were determined that their girls would be in charge of their own agency and mobility at all times.

Having our own truck was empowering. 

Over and over throughout my childhood and girlhood, my parents intentionally empowered us to be in charge of our own lives.

I’ve thought about Frank the Gas Monster a lot over the past few years but particularly right now when the Duggar story is bringing a much-needed light onto the truth and consequences of patriarchal culture, particularly on women. And when you write a book like Jesus Feminist, you become privy to a lot of women’s tender stories. In the past few years, through email and in person, I’ve been honoured to hear from women all around the world, desperate to share their precious stories with someone. And so often their stories break my heart.

So many of the women I hear from grew up in that sort of Duggar-ish patriarchal church culture that did the very opposite of my parents. Instead of empowering their girls, they dis-empowered them. Well-meaning authority figures often removed their agency, their mobility, their independence, isolating them and then shackling them into dependence on the good will of the men in their life. Children were controlled, women were subservient to men, and the consequences aren’t hard to figure out.

I can’t tell you how many women I hear from who are trapped in abusive or unhealthy or broken homes but feel unable to leave because they simply have no way to support themselves or their children. And when life hasn’t turned out according to the “Master Plan,” they are filled with despair and crippled. Their lives are still dependent on the good will of a man. That theology might work okay when everything is perfect and everyone is doing what they are supposed to do, but let’s be honest: life happens. And if that good will departed for one reason or another, they were devastated, of course, but now they were also on a steep learning curve. No credit cards, no education (often homeschooled), no drivers license, lots of small children, and so on. The consequences of this damaging theology are legion but lately I’ve been reminded afresh just how much of a price women pay when they are kept powerless. (As a note, I am not an expert on patriarchal church culture at all but if you are looking for a place of support, I’ve heard excellent things about Recovering Grace.)

Now, my parents have always had a strong, beautiful marriage based on mutuality. And sure, like most parents, they wanted us to experience the love of another person, to get married, have children. They fully expected that to happen.

But they made sure we were able to take care of ourselves, too.

If we ever got married, it was going to be because we wanted to, not because we had to.

And if we ever wanted or needed to leave a marriage, we would be able to do so. If our husbands left us or, God forbid, died, we would be okay for the practical work of running our lives and caring for our children even if our hearts were broken.

We were empowered from a young age to make our own decisions and to own our own lives.

There were other ways that my parents were very intentional about empowering us girls. Their expectations were high for school and work ethic. We were expected to get jobs if we wanted spending money. If we struggled in school, we were expected to show up for extra tutoring and studying until we figured it out (chemistry was nearly the death of me). We were expected to go on to university after high school – even though that wasn’t their own path. We were expected to earn scholarships to help pay for our own education, this was no free ride. We were expected to study a discipline that would get us into a career that could pay the bills.

Most importantly, we were given freedom to fail when the stakes were low. We could make a few bad decisions with our independence because their reasoning was that it was better to fail while they were there to help pick up the pieces than to send us out into the world for the first shot at failure.

Those years at home are practice for an independent life after home.

My own tinies are still quite small but I do keep the idea of empowerment close by as we raise them. Right now that looks different than a big brown Ford truck obviously but we find age-appropriate ways to encourage independence.

I’m learning to keep my eye on the long-game: I’m not managing children, I’m raising children into capable and compassionate adults. I’m not doing the tinies any favours to keep them dependent on me for everything from laundry to food, learning to relationships. Teaching responsibility and encouraging independence takes longer to teach, and it requires a tremendous amount of faith to take the risk of setting them free to make mistakes, but it is so worth it. That big ugly brown truck is my shorthand to remember that I need to empower my children to be independent and own their lives.

Keeping our children powerless does not do them any favours.

 

This post is part of an ongoing series about the lessons I picked up from my own parents about parenting

 

Continue Reading · parenting · 26

Transformation by Interruption

Transformation by Interruption :: Sarah Bessey

By nature, by nurture, and by training, I’m a planner. I’ve always been able to make a plan, work a plan, stick to a plan. It’s one of my greatest strengths, a dedication that has served me well in everything from my former work in strategic development and marketing to my life now as a writer and a mother.

I can attest to the writer of Proverbs that it is wise to “do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house” (Prov. 24:27, NLT). I love an organized spreadsheet and a strong vision-mission-purpose statement. I will probably always be a planner because I find God there: it’s the gospel of joining with God to bring order out of chaos, perhaps.

Yet, I’ve experienced God most deeply when my plans are disrupted.

That’s how these things usually work. There’s a shadow side to our strengths, often discovered through some inciting incident outside of our control. We find God in the space between what we know to do and the unknown territory where our usual methods are useless. I call these moments holy disruptions. They’re the places where I run out, when I have to decrease, and then, wouldn’t you know it? I see Christ increase.

For me, motherhood has been the holiest disruption of all.

Read the rest of this post at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics….

Continue Reading · Guest Post, parenting · 5

Here’s why I don’t feel guilty about being a work-at-home mum

 

There was a bit of a movement underway a few years ago: Christian women were signing pledges saying that they wouldn’t let their tinies see them on the computer. I think their intentions were mostly good – they knew they were distracted by social media in particular, perhaps, and so they wanted to give their best and primary attention to their children. That idea continues to hang on somehow, particularly in my line of work.

I understand it. Of course, 8 hours of Facebook or texting to the exclusion of fully being present with our families is damaging. And so I am wise with my time on social media, not only for their sakes but for my own creativity, health, sanity, and proper sense of perspective. (For instance, when my husband gets home and asks me about my day, I don’t like for my first answer to be, “well, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what this one guy said on Twitter or how many likes this Instagram picture of the kid I neglected all day received!” Not exactly healthy.)

But here’s the thing: I work from our home on a – wait for it – computer. My husband works out of our home full-time in a pretty demanding job with irregular hours occasionally. I am the primary caregiver for our tinies. Granted, we have a (very beloved) baby-sitter for two mornings a week while the older ones are at school, so that I can make phone calls, do interviews, try to catch up on email, and work uninterrupted for a bit of time, but usually I am at home, trying to get in a full-time job at the edges of our life.

Being a work-from-home mother can feel like a very inefficient juggling act, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this choice.

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that our family works best in this way with one parent more fully engaged during the day, but I know that I am privileged to be a work-at-home mother. I work hard and we have made sacrifices so that this choice is feasible. I do not take it for granted, even though there are occasional afternoons when I pick up the tinies from school and then turn on Wild Kratts, hand them a plate of apple quarters with goldfish crackers, and then sit down to answer emails for an hour before supper. There are mornings when the baby and I take the tinies to school, and then come home to a wide-open toy box for her and an open laptop for me to write an article to deadline. When I am interrupted, there are times when I put my work aside, absolutely, but then there are times when I hand her a book and say, “Mum is writing, we’ll go to the park in an hour.  I’m not your cruise director, darling, find something to do.”

Early into our family arrangement, I had to take a long hard look at the narrative that it was a shameful thing for my tinies to see me on the computer.

And then, thoughtfully, prayerfully, we decided to call complete and utter crap on any more needless mum-guilt.

Here’s why:

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cooking supper. That’s part of our life – and in fact, it creates a great opportunity to be together, to prepare them for life, to teach, to have fun.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cleaning the house. Keeping our home clean and tidy is part of my life – and it is part of theirs, too, unless I want to have lazy and entitled teenagers someday. Can I get an amen?

I don’t feel guilty taking them along when we get groceries or pay bills or drop off library books or help others or any other of the chores and tasks and work that goes into running this little family.

Why not? Because work is honourable. Paid or unpaid, it’s good to work.

Maybe my prairie kid work ethic is showing. My grandpa raised our clan to know that truth: work is honourable. Now I’ve rounded that out with the belief that work is also a gift from God, part of our heritage as co-creators with God. Particularly when our work – paid or unpaid – is personally fulfilling, an act of creativity or beauty or usefulness. What a gift to be able to work!

So, is it a shameful thing for a mother to work on the computer while her children are present? Nope.

Not only is it not damaging to my tinies to see me – gasp! – working on the computer while they’re here, I believe it’s downright good for them.

Yes, it is good for them to discover right now that they are not the centre of the universe. To let them discover ways to entertain themselves – I’m not their cruise director. To let them see their dad choring around on a Saturday, make sure they grab a broom and sweep up drywall dust alongside of him. To let them grab a rag and a bottle of vinegar to pitch in with Thursday cleaning. To let them learn to fold socks. To let the tinies sweep the floors.

Welcome to being part of a functioning family, for heaven’s sake.

(This home doesn’t run by magic or pixie dust: welcome to the real world, darlings.)

In addition to that, we have decided it is GOOD for the tinies to see me loving my job, loving my work, being good at something, and actually doing it. To let them see me being faithful to my calling, let them see their dad empowering me to do it with his enthusiastic blessing, let them see it as part of our family’s gift to the world.

This is what we do in this family: we support each other in our work and in our callings and even in the things we just plain love to do.

Mothers are people, too.

(And, very quietly, I’ll also gently point out right here the privilege inherent in the idea that we can choose whether or not our children see us work.)

Let the tinies learn what it looks like to be a person, made in the image of God, working – no matter if our work happens on computers or at the laundry or on the job site or a pulpit or the classroom – as unto the Lord.

My tinies are proud of us for our work. They think it’s good and important.

 

Let them see us working: work is a honourable thing.

 image source

edited from the archives

Continue Reading · parenting, women · 19