Practicing Thanks

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When I found out I was pregnant with my second, I immediately waged a preemptive strike on the postpartum depression that flattened me after my first was born. In an attempt to keep the fear, anxiety, and despair from once again taking over my life and driving a wedge between me and my baby, I started seeing a therapist and writing in a gratitude journal.

I "journaled" periodically throughout my tween, teen, and college years, and while reading through these journals offers up a walk down memory lane, the walk is anything but pleasant – nearly all of my journal entries center around angst and heartbreak. 

The goal of a gratitude journal, however, falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. In each entry, you are required to write about something – anything, big or small – for which you are thankful. Instead of dwelling on how many times you put your toddler in timeout, you focus on how thankful you are that your partner came home from work 20 minutes early to relieve you. Instead of dwelling on how you spent an entire morning cleaning someone else's bodily fluids off the bathroom floor, you focus on how thankful you are that your baby’s afternoon nap lasted just long enough for you to take a shower.

According to researchers at UC-Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, the benefits of practicing gratitude span nearly every aspect of life. Study results show that people who take time to notice and reflect on the good in their lives experience more positive emotions like happiness and optimism, fewer negative emotions like loneliness and isolation, and less depression. These people also sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and have stronger immune systems.

Taking a moment at the end of every day to acknowledge and say thank you for a moment, experience, or person who made the day just a little bit brighter - even when the best you can come up with is "coffee" or "bedtime" - is one of the most positive coping mechanisms around.

By the grace of God, I never experienced a single symptom of postpartum depression - or even the baby blues, for that matter - after Hallie was born. I'll never know if the steps I took while pregnant or the way Hallie came into the world (Will's birth was pretty traumatic, while Hallie's birth was pretty perfect) made a difference, or if I was just given a pass the second time around. Either way, after writing throughout my pregnancy with Hallie and the first few months of her life, I was hooked on gratitude journals. Nine years later, I still keep one every November and every Lenten season.

As we embark on this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you, my fellow Mama Bears, to join me in keeping a gratitude journal. You certainly need not write in your journal every day throughout the month of November; instead try just writing every Sunday in November, or every day during the week of Thanksgiving. Whatever the case, I hope keeping a gratitude journal helps you stay strong and faithful and grateful for the simple gifts in life, just as it does me.  

#momtheology: My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness, O God! (And My Hands Prepare PBJ Sandwiches)

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

 A Mom’s Daily Office

It’s nine o’clock p.m., so I wonder: what prayer of the daily office goes with putting my one-year-old to bed, for the third time?

This is the way my mind works, at least lately, as I try and groove with interruptions that are just the normal parts of mom life. I could be mad about them, and sometimes I am, but when I am able to chill and roll with it, I try to see these moments as sacred pauses, holy in and of themselves.

If I were a Benedictine nun, part of my calling would involve pausing throughout the day to pray, to sit in silence, read scripture, and worship God with my sisters. If I were a Trappist monk, maybe I’d up the ante and sleep on a cushionless board on the floor or wear a humble habit to remind me of my commitment to servitude.

But I am neither of these. I am a mom.

Even so, I am trying to see a connection between the sacred calling of the cloistered life and the blessed vocation of motherhood. When I can remain here, in this healthy and calm perspective, I engage in something the monks and nuns do: I pray the daily office.

What is it exactly?

For those in sacred orders, they rehearse the “liturgy of the hours” pausing to pray six or seven times throughout the day.

I have yet to complete the full schedule in the span of twenty-four hours, but find myself asking throughout the day—especially times of stress or challenge, but also moments of joy—"I wonder which prayer is happening right now?"

And then, thanks to the lovely internet, I look them up so I can pray with my monastic brothers and sisters even as I sit here at my own dining room table.

And because I am who I am—a millennial pastor who can’t seem to keep her fidgety fingers off social media—sometimes I tweet my prayers. Here are some examples:

(Early A.M.)          “May what is false within us

                               Before your truth give way

                               That we may live untroubled

                               With quiet hearts this day.”

                               -Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal #morningprayer

 

(Morning)              My soul proclaims your greatness, O God!

(And my hands prepare pbj sandwiches.)

#feastofascension #morning prayer

 

(Afternoon)           In the spirit of Psalm 119 & in

thanksgiving for a nap: Revive me, O God,

& restore this fridge full of decay,

too, please. #afternoonprayer

 

(Evening)               Great River Nut Brown, Psalm 91,

& Today’s Hottest Country, WLLR.

#nightprayer

 

(Dawn)                   Baby back to sleep, Psalm 51, silent house.

#dawnprayer

As a mother, life is going to include interruptions. Disturbances of sleep, for me, are the hardest. So when I have to rise at dawn to console a restless child, I also try to calm my own restless mind with prayer.

 


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Summertime, and the Livin’ Is Easy…I Hope

For years I struggled to find balance – between scheduled and unscheduled, activity and rest, work and play – during the summer months. I tried different kinds of color-coded calendars, bucket lists, and chore charts, all of which worked…about 20% of the time.

Tired of feeling defeated and disappointed in myself, last spring I decided to no longer simply survive summer with my kids. Their childhood years were racing past me in a blur, and I wanted to love summer with them…before I was all out of summers with them. I spent the entire month of May reading blogs and scouring Pinterest so that when the bell rang on the last day of school, I had a plan.

Said plan came with plenty of ups and downs, but overall, our summer went smoothly. Both kids and I rested, relaxed, had fun, learned new things, and rolled into August feeling good about ourselves and our relationships with one another. And because I imagine many of you find yourselves in a similar situation – intimidated by the summer ahead and wondering how to emerge on the other side feeling happy and fulfilled – here are a few of our tried and true ideas for making this season one you and your kids will not only remember, but cherish.

  1. Create a schedule. The summer schedule needn’t be as rigid as the school year schedule, but kids thrive when their days have at least some semblance of order to them. Approximate wake-up, bed, and meal times as well as regular lessons, classes, or camps will provide predictability, stability, and comfort.
  2. Create a calendar. Like the summer schedule, the summer calendar can be looser than the school year calendar. But creating a physical calendar on which each day’s plans have been noted is worth the time…and will prevent you having to field 100+ “what are we doing today?” questions before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee.
  3. Block off down time. After adding swimming lessons, art classes, and sports camps to the calendar, take note of where you have blocks of free time and designate them as just that – free time. Reserve a couple of mornings, afternoons, or even days each week for spontaneous fun: family day trips, outings to the movie theatre or swimming pool, or even just staying home and letting the kids run wild in the backyard.
  4.  Give them jobs. When the kids spend more time at home, they should have more responsibilities at home. Perhaps they take on an extra chore or two, or if they’re a little older, they can care for younger siblings or help out with meal planning and preparation.
  5. Keep them on track academically. Do your future self a favor and make sure your kids stay on track academically with some kind of bridge book and daily quiet reading time. When fall rolls around and you’re back to helping with homework and projects, you’ll be glad your kids won’t need to relearn anything from the previous year. And quiet reading time is good for everyone’s sanity.
  6. Bend the rules. On occasion, throw those schedules and calendars and responsibilities out the window. Skip the chores and head to the beach. Bail on the academic work and watch cartoons. Ditch dinner at the kitchen table and have an outdoor picnic or a picnic on the living room rug.
  7. Take time for yourself. Whether a quiet morning at the coffee shop, lunch with friends, or even a weekend away, periodically step away from the kids and spend some time alone or with those in your life who rejuvenate and energize you. Mama Bears can’t keep everyone and everything else running smoothly if they haven’t first shown themselves a little love.

Bonus tip #1: Don’t want to spend money? Make popsicles, visit the public library, play in the sprinkler, turn your living room into a movie theatre, set up play dates, sign up for vacation bible school, and look into Kids Bowl Free.

Bonus tip #2: Tired of your kids asking to play with their electronics? Create a checklist like this one. It only takes a week or so for kids to remember to check the list before asking, and usually they get so caught up in doing something on the list that they forget about the electronics all together!

Nothing about this list is perfect, complete, or workable for everyone (nothing every is when it comes to kids…), but knowing I have a plan in place makes this Mama Bear excited to kick off summer vacation.

Meeting Mama Bear: Liz Josie

Liz Josie is a busy, stay-at-home mom of four young kids. She’s a native of Utah, teaches piano lessons, and tries to put one foot in front of the other while managing her family. Liz recently discovered the full power of her Mama Bear.

Liz saw a local doctor give a troubling talk about the Syrian refugees crisis. He spoke about the millions of Syrian refugees who have had to flee their country with nothing. What struck Liz was how the people he spoke of her so much like herself and the people she knew: they worked, they had homes, they had prized possessions, and they didn’t ask to have to flee everything they had known. Liz left the community forum feeling overwhelmed and was unsure how she could make an impact. She was physically ill and prayed for an inspiration to propel her forward.

Liz’s former neighbor, the head of her area's Kids Against Hunger Chapter, was mentioned in the presentation for a meal packaging event that had recently sent meals to Iraq. When the two connected shortly after the presentation, Liz felt the nudge of her activated Mama Bear. She decided to take a leap of faith and put together a start-to-finish packaging event to help the refugees who weighed so heavily on her mind.

Through some connections on Facebook, Liz reached out to Helping Hands of Relief and Development (HHRD) who helped her locate a refugee camp in Lebanon that desperately needed the meals Liz knew she could deliver. HHRD let Liz know that all aid is required to be shipped in a 40-foot crate. This crate would need to be filled entirely with meals—enough to feed the entire camp for a month.

At that point, all numbers became staggering. A 40-foot crate holds 1,188 boxes. Each box holds 36 bags. Therefore, 42,768 bags would be sent. Each bag contains six meals. So while Liz was staring down potentially providing 256,608 meals to people in desperate need, she was unsure of how to make this event come together. She realized she needed to raise $70,000 to fund the project AND then find 800+ volunteers to package the food thing. Mama Bear stirred.

Liz could have stopped as she became overwhelmed by the numbers of such a giant project, but she didn’t. The more Liz thought about it, the more at peace she felt and the more compelled she was to continue. She knew these meals would help very real and very hurting people. Her mantra was simple: “FORGET YOURSELF AND GET TO WORK.” The families in these refugee camps deserve the help, the food, and the support.

In reaching out to local friends, Liz found immediate support. Even with the daunting task of fundraising, people were eager to help. A committee was formed—all moms in varying stages of parenting with kids of all ages. Each woman brought unique talents and gifts and, amazingly, everything started to come together. When a need arose, someone stepped up and the need was filled.

Liz now knows that one person can do more than they ever dream possible … but not everything. It truly takes a team to step up and accomplish big things to make a difference in the world. As Liz and her team worked, the project miraculously fell into place. Local businesses stepped in with donations for the primary fundraiser, the local museum allowed the use of their space, and the local doctor that sent Liz on this initial journey agreed to speak again.

At the end of the fundraising event, Liz, who is not prone to tears, cried freely when it was announced the group’s $70,000 goal was met. What started as a sick feeling and the question “What can I actually do to help?” led to a group of women celebrating what can happen when everyone comes together for good. While Liz’s thoughts have shifted to the packaging event to make this dream come full circle, her heart is at peace knowing that it will all come together.  Thanks to this tribe of Mama Bears, 256,608 meals will be on their way to hungry sisters and brothers in Lebanon.

For those local to the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois), visit www.qcrefugeeproject.com for more information on how to volunteer for the packaging event to be held June 3, 2017. Email refugeeprojectqc@gmail.com with any questions.

Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.

Mama Bear Self Care: Bake for the Health of It

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

I learned my way around the kitchen under my mother’s wing. Wearing an apron that hung nearly to my ankles and standing precariously on a wooden stool, I inched closer and closer until I all but crowded her out of the head chef’s place at the counter. As we created salads, soups, and casseroles, she taught me the formal techniques I would one day use to feed my family as well how to express my creativity in the kitchen and the art of preparing and presenting food with love.

Fifteen years later and as a newly-relocated (read: friendless) newlywed whose other half worked 14 hours a day, I decided to build on what my mother taught me and improve my baking skills. I told myself I took on the project for the sake of our future children, who would of course someday need me to contribute to their schools’ bake sales … honestly, I really just wanted an excuse to lick the bowl and indulge in a few sweet treats myself.

As I whipped up banana bread, brownies, lemon bars, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, I realized that each recipe – even halved – produced more than my little family could consume. Rather than dump the extras into the trash, I started sending them to work with my husband or taking them to my office. My husband’s graduate students sent thank-you emails for the homemade cookies. My coworkers’ faces lit up when they found trays of cupcakes on the break room counter. And with that, a cycle began: I baked, my baked goods made other people happy, I felt happy, and I baked again.

I didn’t always love the process, or the cleanup, or the frustration that crept in when I attempted to tweak recipes with disastrous results, but I kept baking because it made me feel good about myself.

The cycle continues today, another 15 years later. Despite my family doubling in size and my time commitments doubling in number, I still bake for my husband, kids, friends, and friends’ kids. For sporting events. For school functions. For Fridays. At times my inability to turn down a request for baked goods – no matter how full my schedule – baffles me.

And then last month I came across this article. As the choir sang “Alleluia,” the heavens parted and a beam of light illuminated my stove like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Suddenly it all became clear.

Should your busy schedule keep you from reading the article in its entirety, here’s a summary: making other people happy makes us happy, and when we care for others, we care for ourselves.

  • Baking provides a creative outlet. Research has found an inverse relationship between creative expression and stress, meaning the more we express ourselves creatively, the lower our stress levels.
  • Baking provides a way to communicate feelings and emotions. When we struggle to express how we feel, food can help us share our message. Explains Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, “In many cultures, and in many countries, food…is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we can all relate to.”
  • Baking promotes mindfulness, which has been connected to increased happiness and decreased stress. Because baking requires physical and mental focus and attention to detail, it requires us to be present in the moment. Ohana also explains that baking promotes balancing the moment against the bigger picture, something that can be difficult to master.
  • Baking with the intent to gift the finished product is altruistic. Donna Pincus, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, describes the cycle I mentioned above in more detail: “Baking for others can increase a feeling of wellbeing, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you’ve done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people.”

Of course these benefits to baking apply only if you feel comfortable in the kitchen. If baking causes you stress, steer clear…but then find your gift and put it to use in the same way many of us use baking. A friend of mine is an incredible knitter and she loves to make scarves and hats and mittens for friends. Another friend creates beautiful leather bookmarks and pops them into books when she lends her favorites. These Mama Bears enjoy their personal creative outlets and appreciate the feelings of accomplishment and happiness that come from caring for others.

Though I didn’t realize it until last month, for 30+ years I have measured, mixed, and decorated as a way to work out my creative energy, let others know how I feel, and spend time alone with my thoughts. Now that I know the benefits, I anticipate another 30+ years of the same.

Perhaps we should talk about exercise next month…


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from  Mother  by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

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Mama Bear Moment: When Your CHild is Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes

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Kate is a full-time working mom to two young boys, is active in her church, and recently moved her family to a new home. She is dedicated and gives everything her all, so when her family was dealt a new challenge, she embraced it and handled it with grace. That's why we're sharing her Mama Bear story here.

Kate’s oldest son, Kallan, was only 4 years old when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). To say the diagnosis made Kate and her husband feel helpless is an understatement. They were unaware of how diabetes would change their lives, control their conversations, and cause endless worry.

To many of us, treatment for diabetes may be filed in our minds simply as “don’t eat too much sugar.” Sadly, that is not the case. For the uninformed mama, Kate provides this “non-medically approved” simplification:

When you eat anything with carbohydrates in it, sugar (or glucose) is created in your blood. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which helps your body turn the glucose into energy.  In T1D, the pancreas does not function, which means no insulin is made. Any time a T1D eats, they must be given insulin through either an injection (yes, a shot) or through a device called an insulin pump. 
The insulin must be carefully calculated by taking into account current blood glucose level, the time of day, and the amount of carbohydrates being consumed. Too little insulin causes your blood sugar level to stay too high and too much insulin means your blood glucose level could drop to dangerously low level – both of which cause scary side effects or even death. Just when you’ve mastered all of that, you then discover that other factors can affect your blood glucose levels such as exercise, excitement, growth spurts, illness and the type of carbohydrates you eat. 

Kate doesn’t judge other parents who aren’t as diabetes aware, as she was recently in their shoes. She recognizes the learning curve inherent when you don’t live diabetes daily like she and her family have been forced to. Kate and her husband endured a “diabetes bootcamp” after Kallan’s diagnosis and left with medical supplies, instructions, and a pediatric endocrinologist on speed dial.

What neither Kate nor her husband anticipated was how this diagnosis would make them better parents, how it would encourage more involvement in Kallan’s schooling, and how it would continually show them how fortunate they were to have wonderful family and friends.

Following the bootcamp, they arrived home to balloons, presents, and a decorated room for Kallan. Because he would be getting 4-5 finger pricks and 4 shots per day, boxes upon boxes of Band-Aids started arriving at their home addressed to Kallan – many from all over the country. This provided their first glimpse at the support that would be a part of their journey.

Kate reminds other Mama Bears that face any type of medical or unexpected challenge to look for the positives amidst the tears, frustrations, and sleepless nights. The positives could come in the form of seeing your friends and family join together to support you and your little one, seeing your now 5-year-old explain his medical care to the very impressed school nurse, or even just laughing at medical memes that you wouldn’t have even understood just a short time ago. 

Kate has learned an endless amount in the year and a half since she’s added “diabetes mom” to her resume. She now understands that it truly does take a village to parent a child with T1D and she is finding it’s worth the extra effort.

(For more information about T1D, visit the JDRF wesite HERE.)


Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.