Deep In Monkey Bread

Have you ever tried to make monkey bread with actual monkeys? OK, well neither have I, but I did with the closest thing to little monkeys you can find – a four year old and a 21 month old. A lazy Sunday morning, snowed in again, this time by a second blizzard, seemed like the perfect setting to make monkey bread with two short helpers. There was nowhere to be, no time limits, no rushing. Just us in the kitchen, white lights plugged in, scented candle lit, the silent white snow drifting from the sky to the ground.

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It was not quite the calm, Pinterestly, smiling fun I had in mind. I was tired, a little bit over the snow mounting up to the kitchen windows, and generally not feeling patient. The culinary scenario often goes like this these days: I begin the kitchen process. Oldest child drags her small chair to the counter. Youngest child drops everything she is preoccupied by and leaps like a flea for her chair, pulling with all her strength, frantically yelling “HEP!HEP!HEP!” (Meaning she wants to help, help, help, as well. NOT,  that she needs help.) We situate ourselves, usually with them in the exact place I need to stand in order to achieve any progress and me, waltzing around them, stretching arms between them, or giving the oldest directions for things she can handle.   And quite typically one or both of them falls off their chairs during the session. I often find myself grabbing the youngest off of her chair, holding her, and attempting to cook one handed.

There is no efficiency to this cooking style, no therapeutic relaxation. I am lucky to read thru a recipe, understand it, and get an edible result from it. Hopefully, the girls will at least learn how to cook someday and will not sustain long term trauma from falling off chairs, associating cooking with hitting their heads on the floor.

There are days when I can reasonably handle this arrangement with my tiny chefs. There are days when I banish them from under my feet so I can just make a meal unstressed. There are nights when I cook after they’ve gone to dreamland and I remember there can be a therapeutic quality to the whir of the Kitchen Aid, the stir of a spoon in a pot, the aroma of finished.

Monkey bread blizzard day was not a day I could handle well. Like I said, over tired, over snow, I really just wanted to put the bread in the oven and sit on a couch with a cup of coffee and hypnotize myself with the spiraling snowflakes. The recipe was a tiny bit involved, with many steps and re-reading of the recipe.

IMG_0378There were approximately 2,067 questions from the four year old. There was near tumbling off the chairs. There were don’t touch instructions. There were repeated don’t touch instructions. And a few more. And saving from more near tumbling. And explaining and showing how to make the tiny dough chunks. And how NOT to make the dough chunks. And requests to not eat the dough. And fishing dough out of the baby’s mouth. And more directives not to eat the dough. And answering more questions. And explaining that I was not upset, but that listening to instructions is important. And please don’t reach for the knives. And please don’t play with the dough. And please keep rolling the dough if you want to help. And please stop eating the dough. And getting more dough out of the little mouth. No, do not bite my finger. Please stand on the chair right, you will fall off. Why will you fall off? Because you are not standing up correctly. No, it is not ready yet, it has to rise, then we bake it. Why does it rise? Because it has yeast in it and that makes it puffy and light. What does rise mean? To get higher in the pan. No, we are not baking it right away, I just said that. Please roll the dough in the sugar. Please don’t dump sugar over it. No, not all the sugar in one spot. No, roll the dough in the sugar. Ok, take turns. It is her turn. Because you just had a turn. Don’t eat the sugar. Ok, ALL DONE! Good job, go play.

Are you stressed?  I’m exhausted just remembering it. But, the beautiful thing is that I still love my kids. Of course I do. It would be unnatural if I didn’t just because they asked questions and did not listen. And I will cook with them again. And I’ll get frustrated again and wonder why I cook with them.

And as I was standing there, rolling my eyes at the refrigerator instead of in the direction of the girls, I thought about how much I question God. About how much I want to do things my way. About how often I don’t trust that the plan is good enough. How I think that I need to tweak the plan somehow. That perhaps if I rolled the dough and dumped more sugar over it, it would taste better, because more sugar is always the best, right? Because I cannot trust that less is sometimes more. Because I cannot believe that the plan does not include me being utterly happy right now, this very moment, and throwing forever to the wind. Because, obviously, if I do not have everything that my surrounding culture tells me I need, even the best-intentioned culture, then God’s way of doing things is not good enough and I am missing out. Because living in the wilderness or the desert is clearly God sending me on a dead end path, not the path to milk and honey, glory and delight.

My little four year old is learning about her world. My little 21 month old is copying and trying her best to keep up. Both of them are incredibly determined that they can exist without help, that they have life figured out, right here, right now. And while, I am often impressed by their life savvy, I clearly know they do not have everything figured out. I know that they need to learn that all the sugar does not need to be dumped onto one section of the dough.

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I am not so foolish to think that my children understand their neediness at this age. They are naturally learning and will learn by hearing things over and over and by falling off chairs and getting up again. And I am grateful that God is patient with me. I am comforted knowing that no matter how often I believe the lie that my way or the more shiny way is better than God’s, He will still look at me and see Christ’s blood. He will still wrap me in His arms and call me His child. He will see the work of the Cross and remind me with gentle love that He knows better than I, because He has given me everything I need for life and godliness in Christ. He, the Author of my faith, the Finisher of my faith, the ultimate creator who created an unfathomable redemption plan will not rob me of happiness. I need to remember that my Father invites me to participate in this life of faith, to increase in knowledge, because He loves me more than I can fathom. And my tiny chefs, who try to roll dough while doing ballet while standing on a chair are my constant reminders that a perfect Father plans a perfect path in perfect love.

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M&Ms and the Call of God

I laughed to myself recently when a woman asked me a question that could be classified as “parenting advice.” I was standing in a crowd, chatting with a random stranger from New York City who had a five-month-old baby girl strapped to her, discussing pacifiers, thumb sucking, and sleep patterns. I, who am the Queen of Makeshift Parenting, was doling out parenting tips. Like you should be telling anyone anything, I laughed to myself. I, who forget to change diapers and drag my children to Starbucks with iPads and cake pops while writing academic papers, will most likely not be writing Parenting magazine’s next advice column.

It was an ironically humorous moment that I had with myself. But, on the other hand, I am constantly amazed that being a mother to my children is the one thing that I have never questioned myself on my ability to do. And, by no means do I credit myself with this instinctual epiphany. Only God could give instincts and intuition that I found myself possessed with upon suddenly meeting my oldest daughter. Despite second guessing most of the steps I’ve taken in my life, I have never felt more myself than being these two little people’s mom. I may forget to buy enough ingredients to assemble a fruit and vegetable pirate ship for lunch, but I can read their minds. I may change diapers in the most inordinate places, but I can anticipate their emotions, their imaginings, and their small joys.

Obviously, I make mistakes, like giving my 16-month-old a bite of an M&M, transforming her into an M&M fiend who shrieks and hyperventilates when she sees an M&M bag. I know I will make many mistakes. I know there will be errors in judgment, things I would not do over again, words that I wish I could swallow down into my throat. I know there will be days when I am completely confounded by their actions, words, and attitudes. But when I scan through parenting articles and the scads of comments arguments that follow them, I find it odd how much of what we consider “parenting” does not really matter.

Even though there will be mistakes, my confidence is high and my stress is low, because I know ultimately, it is God who must place His hand on their life. I will do my best to steward this responsibility that He has, for reasons only He knows, believed best to drop into my life. I will model moral living in front of them. I will teach them good habits of life and what having strong character means. I will teach them to work hard. I will teach them to be virtuous, to be kind. I will teach them everything I can and model for them, as much as God gives me grace to do so.

I believe these are things that responsible parents do. However, whether I am a good or bad parent to let them suck their thumbs or eat M&Ms, or whether I live well or stumble and fall in front of them matters not. While I will be the best parent I can be because I want to be responsible, what really matters is that they learn that God loves them, that He is a trustworthy and good Father. What matters is that they learn to trust His word, to know what His will is (from His word). I will teach them to read so that they will be able to read and understand the Bible. I will show them the beauty and truth woven into the world- so they will see Christ around them, even within the darkest examples of need. I will teach them that the Cross is the only thing to which they can cling in a fallen world. I will encourage them to have large souls and love learning, so they understand that God, the author and sustainer of all, is not limited by time or space or geography and that His love and grace are boundless. But ultimately, no matter how hard I work to teach these things, it is only the call of God that will capture their hearts and turn their eyes to see His glory. As St. Augustine, speaking of his mother, writes, “Not of her gifts do I speak but of Your gifts in her.” I will fail miserably as a parent by many standards. I am without ability to mold or change my children. Rather, it is the gift of God when He calls them to Himself.

Someday, it will not matter if my children had a thumb or a pacifier. It will not matter if they had a blanket or co-slept with me, ate adequate servings of organic vegetables, or any other preferences that I might force on them. They may wear braces, they may not learn Mandarin, and they may have to look up a word in order to spell it correctly. While some of these issues are important to quality of earthly life, what I hope most is that they hear and understand the voice of God. Our goodness, baseline moral code, amazing standards of cleanliness, organizational and social skills, and access to a world-class education are not our strengths. Like Samuel in the Old Testament, I pray that they hear the voice of God calling them, that His hand is on their lives, and that His grace is their strength.

 

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Thoughts on Friendship

I sat at a table outside a local bakery and coffee shop. It sits in an old mill, and just a few doors down the covered sidewalk is a small restaurant with outdoor seating as well. As I situated my two children and moved my hot coffee out of the reach of my one year old, I noticed a group, nay, herd, of first time moms circling a table outside the restaurant, restlessly moving strollers around, adjusting blankets and trying to decide where to sit at the table to best reach said strollers. At first glance I thought about last June, when my coffee snatcher was still an immobile newborn who slept almost constantly. I smiled as I thought about my frequent visits to the bakery for coffee and muffins last summer, adjusting to life with two little ones.

Then I heard them talking. I heard words like sleep and Zantac and pediatrician. I was suddenly grateful to be with a grabby pre-toddler instead of lugging around a fragile infant and fragile, over- tired emotions. I looked over at this large assortment of strollers circling the table like Conestoga wagons and wondered what it was like to have so many friends at the same exact stage of life all at the same time. I wondered if they were all friends or if it was a group that advertised for each other on the Internet- like a Keep Mommy and Me Sane (through the first few months) organization.

I realized that friendship has always been a tenuous ideal for me. Life has bounced a me around here and there with a few circumstance precluding me from being part of the Ideal Lifestyle Groups found on the Internet for every stage of life. I have wonderful friends for whom I am truly grateful, but they are all over the friendship spectrum, geographically, age-wise, and career-wise.

When my oldest child was an infant, I didn’t sit at a coffee shop with my life long besties comparing spit up and nap lengths. I sat in a NICU alone for five weeks with a tiny baby, watching her grow and watching the clock tick until my husband got off work. I treasure those weeks however, where she and I sat alone, listening to music, reading books, and just being. When she was 13 weeks old, I left my house each morning at 6am to head off to work, precluding any infant and mommy social groups. When my second child was born, I switched work paths and am home more now. Ironically, either I am too busy or the people I know are too busy and I have no larger tribe of friends than before. Now, before you get sick of what sounds like a pity party, let me be clear. I am not putting out a wanted poster for friends. I have some of the most fantastic friends far and wide that a girl could ever hope for in a short life on Earth.

We spend a lot of time and energy on the friendship model. In churches, we are pounded over the head to be relational. I have heard women bemoan the fact that they have no older female mentors as if their very salvation hangs in the balance of a mentoring program.

Friendship is a gift beyond price. It cannot be bought, it cannot be replicated, it should not be cheapened by undervalued collections of friend lists on social media. Most importantly, Christ is our friend, our very best friend. One who sticks closer than a brother. The pendulum ride between rejection and encouragement in friendship makes me realize that clinging to Christ as our constant friend and salvation, finding our value as a child of God, is the only way to stay sane. Riding the roller coaster of friendship can be exhilarating and exhausting at the exact same time.

Some of us need friends more than others. Some of us are fine left alone with our own thoughts and imaginations. Friendship cannot be a one sized fits all container. What is true though is no matter what personality type we possess, Christ knows and understands us. His work on the cross covers the extroverts and introverts. He is the one relational being who will never fail us. I have failed my friends and mine have failed me. He never will. And, He also puts others into our lives at the right time and juncture to point us to Him. Sometimes, He ordains that we live less distractedly with few friends in order to accomplish the purposes He has for our lives, and to help us find value in His friendship and His alone.

So whether we are in a crowd of friends, riding the exhilaration wave, or we are wandering around alone, wondering if friendships are worth the effort, the great truth is that we have a friend who not only knows us, but made us. Made us in His image, to reflect His nature, to mimic His imagination, to learn to treat others with the love He has shown. Made us to be His children, to talk with Him, to relate to Him, with the understanding of our inner beings that only a parent can have for a child. And that is a friend worth having and a friendship worth modeling with all other friends we ever make.20140626-220928-79768992.jpg