A Mother's Faith: A Mennonite Interview

I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.
~Abraham Lincoln

This is the first in a series of interviews on faith and motherhood. I am so excited about this!  My goal is to interview fellow mothers/bloggers of different faiths and have a little window into each of their lives...and to see in the end, how we are all trying to achieve the same thing...to prepare faithful, loving, compassionate, children to go out into the world and lead productive, purposeful, meaningful lives. 
 We are all more similar than we are different. 
Different doctrines, different traditions, different rituals, different beliefs, but our fears, our love for our families, and our hopes for our children are all so alike.

Here's my first interview with a mom who is raising her children in the Mennonite faith.

I met my husband and best friend (one in the same) in college and we married immediately afterward. I worked as a clinical social worker for six years before becoming a full-time mom when our son was born. He’s now almost 7 and we went on to have two daughters, ages 4 and 8 months. We live in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of town on one and a half acres. We grow much of our own food, raise chickens for eggs and meat and are in the third year of no income while my husband studies full time for pharmacy and I am home full-time home schooling and caring for our children. Our life is not dull, to say the least.

1. What are the strongest values and beliefs of the Mennonite religion?

Mennonites are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ and believers in the Bible. Living a life of love, peace, simplicity and service is crucial to the Mennonite faith as is the importance of community. Mennonites believe in adult baptism. Also, for many Mennonites it is important for us not to be “of” the world as we live “in” it. This is played out across a wide spectrum with some Mennonites deliberately setting themselves apart from society while others, like ourselves, may not appear to be different, but try to live out values and beliefs that do set us apart from the wider culture.

An excellent on-line resource to learn more about Mennonites can be found here.  The site includes the most commonly asked questions about Mennonites and answers them in a very easy to understand and conversational way.

2. What are your family's daily and/or weekly worship/prayer rituals?

It is very important to us to attend Sunday morning church service and Sunday school every week. We pray before meals, read our children Bible stories, pray with them before bed and teach them about faith, the Bible, God and Jesus as part of their home school studies. All this exposure to faith finds us fielding some interesting questions from our children, which we are grateful for. Open discussions, even about difficult issues, give us opportunities to talk about what we believe.

3. What are the most important concepts of the Mennonite religion that you wish to teach your children?

I see myself as Christian first and Mennonite second. So, primarily we want our children to experience the love of God and to live a life inspired by Jesus Christ. We hope that they will grow up with the bigger picture in mind, seeing others as loved by God as much as they themselves are, acknowledging that they are imperfect but that through God’s grace they can lead lives serving and leading others to Christ by their example and their beliefs. We understand that they must make these choices for themselves and hope that their upbringing will both lay a strong foundation as well as cause them to investigate further why they believe what they believe and make it real for themselves.

4. Is your choice to home school for religious reasons?

Home schooling is not a “Mennonite thing”. In fact, we are one of only three families in our church congregation who home school. However, our faith does play a part in why we choose to do so. We want to be the example that our children follow (as imperfect as we are) and believe that it is our role as parents to teach them our values. We see home schooling as an extension of parenting. This is a personal decision we have made for our family and understand and respect the choices of others not to.

5. Do any of your religious beliefs effect your food customs?

There are no universal customs or restrictions in the Mennonite church when it comes to food. Enjoying food, particularly sharing a meal and fellowship with others, seems to be one of the things many Mennonites (from all over the world) do well. Both my husband and I were raised eating mostly homemade food, a portion of it being homegrown. This is not necessarily a Mennonite trait per se, although many of my husband's and my ancestors farmed, gardened and preserved their own food. We find ourselves in awe of God's creation. The miracle of watching a seed become a plant, produce flowers, bear fruit and yield seed (starting the process all over again) is amazing. The sheer variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs that have been created for our pleasure is overwhelming. We want to respect and relish this by participating in the process first hand. We talk more about our food choices and reasons for them here.

5. What are the most common misconceptions that many people have when it comes to Mennonites? Have you ever been offended or dismissed by others because of your faith?

The most common misconception that I have come in contact with is that people imagine us to look Amish, wearing coverings and full beards. Some Mennonites do choose to set themselves apart in appearance, but many, many of us don’t. We look very ordinary. I feel fortunate to say that I have never been dismissed or offended because of being Mennonite (that I know of). I remember back in public high school friends were curious about my beliefs particularly because I professed faith but wore combat boots and had a partially shaved head (even Mennonites push boundaries at times). These friends were very respectful of my stance. That’s been the story of my life and I am so thankful for this knowing what many others experience because of their faith. I have done nothing to deserve such an easy life in this way.

6. Have you ever questioned your faith?

There have been times that I have felt distanced from God, but I do not believe I have ever seriously questioned His existence or my faith. Beth Moore, a Baptist writer and speaker has said (I’m paraphrasing here) that when we don’t feel God is near, it’s not Him; it’s us- our feel is just messed up. I believe this- He is always there.

7. Have you ever had a profound spiritual moment that has stayed with you forever?

I can’t think of one in particular, but there have been many times in church when we are singing four-part harmony (acapella), when I have been outside in nature or gazing into my children’s eyes when I feel an overwhelming sense of peace and of being loved. It moves me to tears and I seem to float through the rest of the day or week.

8. Do you see your spiritual beliefs playing a large part in your marriage?

Yes, I do. My husband is also Mennonite. Our similar beliefs and values about commitment, honesty and forgiveness have helped us through some difficult times. The fact that we agree on the lifestyle we want for our family and the rules/expectations of our children lessens the stresses of day-to-day life. This does not mean we always get along. Who does?

9. What are the most difficult struggles you have overcome and how did your faith play a part in bringing you peace.

We experienced two ectopic pregnancies, both requiring I have emergency surgery. You can read about those experiences on my blog. They rocked my world. Because of the circumstances surrounding the first one, I consider myself lucky to be alive. Surprisingly, I wasn’t angry with God. I was angry at the circumstance, but my faith has enabled me (thus far) to see tragedy not as something God inflicts on us, but as something that happens because we live in an imperfect world. I fear that if I begin thinking that people or entire countries deserve the tragedy they’ve experienced, I am assuming I know the mind and will of God. I do not. So, while I believe that God does not inflict it upon us, He does enable us to grow and become better in spite of it if we are willing. Without my faith, I’m not sure how I would have reconciled those two loses in my life.

10. What is your favorite Biblical or spiritual quote?

Oh… I have many favorite Bible verses. The Bible is full of wisdom and answers. One of my many favorites is…

This is what the Lord says, "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."
Jeremiah 6:16

A few other favorite quotes are…
“There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in- that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible”. - Mother Teresa

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." - C.S. Lewis

“If we knew the power of prayer, we’d be afraid to get off our knees”. - Unknown

My interviewee (I didn't use her name because she keeps it private on her blog) blogs here.
I visit often to pretend I too live quietly in the country.
The recipes (oh, the recipes!) will suck you in.
The photos will help you dream.
Her wonderful posts will keep you there.



What Makes Me Feel Like A Good Mom?

Do you ever ask yourself this?
It's like giving yourself an evaulation, and then finding all the answers to your happiness.
What's a good day's work as a mommy mean to you?

What, when you lay your head down to sleep, what makes you feel that "this was a great day" feeling in your heart?

For me, I've found it's not dependent on whether or not we did something out of the ordinary.  And it's not really dependent on whether everything went smoothly or not, or whether or not all the kid's were happy all day. 
It's about the stuff that doesn't change...that shouldn't change.  The constant, simple stuff.

Here are my answers:
1. I can say I didn't raise my voice once. I took the time to step back and react like a mature adult in charge of the situation.  I educated and taught instead of getting angry.

2. I looked into the eyes of each child-I wasn't so busy that I just "managed" them, but I took time to connect with each of them.

3. I took the time to search out a little piece of goodness in each one and let them know it. 

4. I went outside with them, in any kind of weather, for a walk, or to play.

5. We never turned the TV on.

6. I got down on my hands and knees and played, or read a book with the little ones.

7. I was "ready" for the older ones when they got home from school.

8. I fed us ALL healthy food and we ate together as a family.

9. I kept our house relatively cleaned and straightened, supplied with GOOD things to do...good books, creative toys.

10. I tucked freshly scrubbed, shampoo-smelling children into bed...and spent a little time reading or talking about their day before lights-out.

No, this all can't happen every single day, it DOESN'T happen every day, but it makes me feel so good when I can make several of them happen. It allows me to feel like "job well done"

It's easy to find excuses but none are really as important enought to interfere with me being the mother I have the intention of being.

Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow is yet to come.  We have only today.  If we help our children to be what they should be today, they will have the necessary courage to face life with greater love.
Mother Theresa


Uncle Andy Is In Town

My youngest brother Andrew is visiting.  We only get to see him once a year because he lives in Ireland.

After we ate greasy pizza for dinner, we declared a family meeting, with Andy as the guest of honor.  I made him think of a real-life story that taught him something important, and then a question and answer session.  (The story was about a high school locker room confrontation between some football bullies and a friend, where Andy stuck up for the friend instead of walking away.) 

The questions varied from "What's your favorite food?" (Guido's Pizza) to "Do you think not watching much TV and hardly ever playing video games as a kid helped you be more artistic?" (My question of course...I was accused by my daughter of asking leading questions...and the answer was YES) and "What was backpacking across Europe like after college?" and "Did you ever have a really bad skateboarding accident?" (He fell skateboarding down a hill in San Fransisco and lost some major skin.) 

Afterwards, the kids did this:

....till I sent them to bed.


Quiet Days

Snow days + Boredom = Finding Things On High Shelves Tucked Into the Back of Closets

Abbey begged to bring my wedding dress down from the highest shelf in my closet and let her try it on. 


Bloom Where You Are Planted, But I Love Arizona?

Jeff and I had the chance to fly out on a quick jaunt to sunny Arizona a couple weekends ago.

I loved the air, the sun, the food.  Fit people hiking, biking, walking everywhere.  The food was so good!  Did I say that already?  We hiked and hiked and hiked some more.  The sunsets, the air, the mountains.  People were nice and friendly, without being too nice and friendly.  Just the way I like it. 
Now I realize that when anyone goes on vacation they think they want to move.  Of course...you aren't living real life on vacation.  But really, that wasn't it.  I don't feel this way often.  I just LOVED the sun. 

Sun makes you look better and feel better.  It makes you happy.  It makes you want to be outside and be active.  It makes you want to eat big salads and lots of fruit, instead of serotonin producing carbs. I NEED the sun...some people can get by without it...not my body chemistry!  I want the sun the majority of the year, not for half of it!


Around the House In A Typical Week

My Elf On A Shelf Once Again

Can't Wait Till Flip Flop Season

 The Science Fair And Abbey

Why Does Someone Always Have to Mess Up My Nice Lists About Healthy Choices With Words
Like Anti Monkey Butt Powder

Andrew's Sign Up Sheet For A Trip He Is Planning By Himself  To California, Wanna Come?

Rubber Ball Stuck In Laundry Shoot, Knife/Broom/Packaging Tape Contraption, What Fun

A Snow Storm and A Dare


A Mushed Up Heart and Choices

Sometimes I write about my decision I made to stay home with my babies.  This post is meant to serve as encouragement to mothers who are making that difficult choice, who wonder if it can be done financially, and/or who might have had the same torn feelings as I did about going to work and leaving my little ones.

Eighteen years ago I had decided to look at life through a long lens-I had so much time for myself after the kids were older and not in need of such intensive care, to use my college degree, and if I wanted, to be away from my home.  But I could never ever get those precious years back with my little ones-they'd only be 6 weeks, or 6 months, or 3 once and I didn't want to miss a thing.

When I was handed my firstborn baby, 18 years ago, I had been married 10 months.  It was really not the greatest time for us to be having a baby.  My husband was in school, we both had school loans- and car loans.  We had very very little money saved.  Jeff had a part-time college job with just about the worse health insurance you could have.  I had no job as I had just moved to the city Jeff was attending school in.  This was not the plan of course (see below). On top of that all, I spent the first four months of pregnancy with hyperemesis-debilitating sickness that gave me a hospital stay hardly covered by insurance.  Yes, we were both participants in this little honeymoon surprise, but it was still sort of shocking...we were young and had our life together planned out perfectly :) before us.

The Newlywed Plan: I was going to get a good job, with good insurance, he'd go to school, and have time to study.  We were renting a little duplex in a halfway decent part of town, maybe after he passed his exam we'd move to a fun city, maybe we'd buy a great house...honestly we didn't even talk about the "when" part of having children.  We'd finally have money for things!  We couldn't wait to lead this exciting, newlywed, "the world is our oyster" part of life.  And lo and behold, here I am, with a BABY, 10 months later. NOT in the plan, that's for sure.

But I'll tell you something, when the nurse put that baby in my arms, my choices, my plan, were gone.  It really was maybe a scale of crazy because I did feel slightly inebriated with hormones.  But that option of work/daycare/babysitters-it wasn't even a consideration to me-it made me cry to even think about it.  You couldn't have ripped that baby out of my arms. I could hardly leave the room without him. I heard him crying in my sleep, (and the kid never cried in real life!), I smelled him from the other room, I couldn't take my eyes of him.  He brought me to my knees. See, crazy, I'll admit.  Rational?  No way.  So what was I, freaky baby mama, with no choice in her mind, to do? 

I had found the only job I could get when I was hugely pregnant, months earlier, when the hyperemesis eased up ... working for a mom of a toddler who traveled with her husband once in awhile.  I took the job, because I knew she was okay with me bringing the baby those weekends.  That job barely payed for groceries. We made it work, We hardly bought a thing other than food.

When that job fell apart because the family I was working for was transferred, my husband had finished school.  He had worked too, while going to school full-time.  I took his old college job...working as a merchandiser for a food company.  I remember dreading having to "train" for two full days...I called my sister and begged her to come...I couldn't leave the baby with anyone but family.  She did, I trained, (and pumped milk in a freezing cold car and counted the minutes of every day) and when I was finished and had to work a few hours a week, I took Isaac with me, or Jeff helped out with my work too, above his school and his own "real" job.

By that time, we had bought a house...the ugliest house for sale in a decent neighborhood...the house that sat on the market forever because it was filthy and disgusting and had no AC, ancient gold appliances and a falling down garage.  I cleaned and scrubbed and peeled and painted...all on the tightest budget imaginable.  It took us years. (And we brought home our second baby about a year after moving in.) I still had little or any for extras, we still scraped by, and again, we never considered it an option for me to leave the kids for work...we were just going to live as tight as we could, and figure it out, and trust our gut feelings that home was the best place for me to be, with the kids.

Was it stressful?  At times, for sure.  But we never considered me working away from the kids...we still had that No Option But Home brain thing going.  As the years went by we made it work.  My husband eventually chose a job outside of law that allowed him normal working hours so he could spend time with us, and eventually,  I found it unnecessary for me to be working outside the home. We had learned to live on one income, and to live on less and be very conscious of our spending and those lessons were beneficial for us always.

When I speak with first-time pregnant mom (or her husband) who seems to already taking a hard stance in her decision to go back to work, I want to say,  "Please, don't make that decision with your mind right now, make it with your mushed up heart after you hold that helpless little one!  And please, give your heart a chance to be mushed up!" 

When I hear someone say to me, "You're really lucky you get to stay home!"  I feel like it's not totally fair. That doesn't mean that I'm not so grateful and blessed to be able to stay home, but I KNOW what it took to get me here...choices and decisions that were hard and stressful, not so much luck involved. Blessed for sure, but it wasn't just luck.

I really felt like my mom cemented into my head, "What is best for the child?"  She says it a lot, I heard it a lot.  I know some feminists would disagree with this, but I really felt, after having a child, in every bone of my body, it was all about that baby, anymore.  I was an adult, I had my "all me" life before baby (not as many years as I had planned!), I made my choices!  And now it was all about someone else...an innocent, helpless, fully vulnerable tiny human being who was completely dependent on his parents, whose first few years require intense times of care and love.

When I look back on those really tight years home with my baby (who is now 18!) I don't regret one moment of it.  In fact, sometimes I laugh at how much we worried instead of just trusted in ourselves and our decision and our ability to make it work.  I know it strengthened our relationship, and in a way, set us on a trajectory that blessed us in many ways.  We learned to live on very little and recognize each other's priorities quickly, we learned how to communicate about money (lots of trial and error on that one!) and set budgets. I think it helped my husband make good career decisions, knowing he was the sole provider, and it forced us to turn away from the hamster wheel of working to spend, and reject the culture of competitiveness.

I am so so grateful for every day I've been blessed to be home with my children.

Here are more stories from mothers about their decision to be home with their children.


Guest Post: Making Your Home A Little Piece of Heaven

I came across this little essay on Lyndsay's blog. She "interviewed" fellow blogger, Stephanie, on what motherhood means to her.
I just love this: I love that Stephanie is confident and has a knowledgable "plan" on how she wants to mother her children.
I love that she is going against the grain of the times with the rejection of the hustle and bustle.
I love that she is riding her bike in the picture above with a baby in the Bjorn! (You don't know how bad I've wanted to do that but was afraid we'd go to jail or something.)
After purusing her blog, I learned that she is a master swaddler (could we share this title?) and can't resist making banana bread with too-ripe bananas vs. just throwing them out.
Smart girl!
Truly an inspiration:

I have wanted to be a stay-at-home mom for as long as I can remember. I even majored in "Home and Family" for crying in the night! And let me tell you something, this life is better than I ever imagined it could be.
I take my title of "stay-at-home mom" quite literally. I try to stay at home with my kids as much as possible.
I am the lucky mother of 3 adorably perfect children. (I can say that because I am their mother.) Mabel, my oldest, is only 6, so my experience as a mother is somewhat limited. But as my children have grown, I have begun to realize that it is my job as a stay-at-home mom to create an environment that allows them to thrive. For me and my family, that means a slow-paced, home-centered existence.
My goal is to create a life for my kids that is peaceful and calm.
There is a lot of noise out there in the world. I want my home to be a refuge, a haven, and a place where that near deafening sound can be ignored for another day. As a stay-at-home mother, the home is my only domain, it is my favorite place to be, and I want it to be my children's, too.
Some things we do (and you can do, too!) to make life at home more peaceful:
On the days that errands simply can't be ignored, get them done quickly and early in the day. This allows for an afternoon of relaxation spent at home, not fighting traffic and the hustle and bustle of shops.
Limit outside activities.
I think we all know how important family time is. Call me crazy, but I really believe that quantity is more important than quality. My kids are not currently enrolled in any extra-curricular activities. But they are still young, so I know this won't last forever. When they are older, and show an interest in things, I will try to limit their involvement a bit so that it doesn't interfere with family time.
Eat dinner together as a family every night.
It doesn't always have to be a spectacular meal, but this is a good habit to start. A couple years ago, I read an article in Time Magazine called The Magic of the Family Meal. In it, I learned a few things, like the fact that young children pick up vocabulary and a sense of how conversation is structured during family dinners. They hear how a problem is solved, learn to listen to other people's concerns, and respect their tastes. They learn to share. Family dinners give kids a sense of belonging to their family. This is where a family builds its identity and culture. Legends are passed down, jokes rendered, eventually the wider world examined through the lens of a family's values. Not to mention that families who eat dinner together tend to eat much healthier.
Make a conscious effort to slow down.
Getting the kids ready to leave the house is always something of a process, and I can likely be found hurrying my children along. But I'm rarely in an actual rush, so I remind myself that it's ok to slow down. It's ok if it takes Oliver 5 minutes to put on his shoes. A trip to the grocery store, or Nana's house, or wherever can wait 5 minutes.
Become a firm believer in doing nothing.
I think kids need their own space and time to do what they want to do. At our house, "doing nothing" includes, but is not limited to: playing, coloring, reading, writing stories, building forts, having "quiet time" (code word for naps), or running around the backyard. Doing nothing is unstructured time where my kids get to choose want they do, and I don't bug them. I am lucky that my two oldest are the best of friends. They are more than capable of keeping themselves entertained, which is a great skill for all kids to learn, even babies like my Stella.
Keep things clean.
In order to maintain a peaceful home, I really believe you have to have a clean home. Some days I feel like I spend my life cleaning. Other days I feel like my house is a major disaster area and there's no hope. But for the most part, I try to stick to a cleaning schedule (Mondays I do bathrooms, Tuesdays I dust, etc.). This keeps my neat-freak tendencies in check, and it means that I always have a relatively clean house. One of my favorite cleaning activities is to putter. This can be done any day, for any amount of time. While my kids are busy "doing nothing", I am busy "puttering", which means walking from room to room picking up, throwing away, and putting things back where they belong. Most of the time I count this as my exercise for the day, and I get the added benefit of having an organized home.
Speak softly, turn off the tv, and listen to pretty music.
I was raised by wonderful parents who never yelled. Not once. Their example has inspired me, and I try not to raise my voice at my children. Again, there is enough of that out in the world. I believe that being a mother is a great privilege and blessing. It is my duty to be the best I can be. Somehow, I don't think raising my voice at these tender little people is fulfilling that sacred calling of motherhood. When my children watch tv, I try to limit it to one or two 1/2 hour shows a day. It's just more noise. And I love to have music playing in our home. It is usually something mellow, but every once in a while something with a good beat comes on and we let loose. Editing the noise you allow into your home from the outside world is so important.
If perchance you, my dear reader, are a high-energy person, or you are a true supermom and juggle work and home life, don't fret. It is possible to create a peaceful environment even if you like running errands in the afternoon, or listening to rock music, or you have a 9-5. The trick is to find a routine that works for you and your kids and to stick to it. Kids crave stability and attention.
If you are giving them the routine and the constant, unconditional love that they need, things are going to be pretty all right most of the time.This much I know, babies don't keep and children grow too quickly, so try to enjoy being home with them now. They will only be content to stay at home for so long, so I, for one, am drinking it up and soaking it in.