Mom guilt, books, summer plans, theodicy, writing advice, and more
Our ask-me-anything for June 2022
As I am wont to do every couple months, yesterday I opened up an AMA (which stands for “Ask Me Anything” in Internet-speak) on my Instagram Stories for your questions to build this week’s Field Notes. A lot of questions poured in - more than I can answer in this newsletter, I’m afraid - but I tried to choose a good cross-section for us today so buckle up.
For those folks who were asking deeply personal advice or guidance, I try to steer clear of that. I’m in your corner, but I can’t be your pastor or your therapist (not qualified for either), let alone your Holy Spirit (definitely not qualified).
Ask Me Anything
Q. My 6 & 8 year old are wrestling with how God can truly be good and yet so much evil surrounds?
A. Those are some wise, thoughtful, compassionate kids. There could be a whole book written here with a lot of examples and nuance by someone much more qualified than me, but for what it’s worth, this is how I usually answer that question at that particular age/maturity level. First, I try to affirm that they’re right: there is evil, people are hurting, and it’s painful. Their broken heart or tears or questions are the right response to pain.
Then, because I don’t believe God foreordains everything that happens - i.e. I don’t believe God gives people cancer to teach them a lesson or ordains abuse - I usually talk through the two things that help me. First, God is everything good and right and whole and loving. If it is evil, it didn’t come from God and you can trust God to be the source of life. As part of Their liberating love, God has given us free will and sometimes the consequence of free will is that people do make bad choices for power, money, control, cruelty, their own brokenness, all of it. God isn’t controlling us or anyone else.
So yes, that means that there is going to be evil in the world but it also means that there is goodness and that means our choices matter, too. And when we hurt, God is with us in our pain and tears and longing. God isn’t just for the good times, God is as present in our grief as in our joy.
Second, I try to encourage them not to lose sight of the light in the midst of the night, you know? We are invited to co-create with God - to be in on what God dreams for the world - right where we are. And then I usually remind them that this isn’t end of the story; that because of God’s love all things will be restored and redeemed in the end.
I don’t always know how - and I’m comfortable telling them I don’t know - but I do know that love matters most when we are sad and broken and scared so the right response to pain is to steadily love each other and love the world.
Q. Any fun summer plans or vacations you’re looking forward to?
A. My “fun summer plans” at the moment involve writing a brand new book…
with four kids home for summer holidays…
…more on that later.
Q. Favourite Anne of Green Gables tv adaptation?
A. Definitely the 1985 CBC mini-series starring Megan Follows; it’s the OG and standard. I’ve watched it and the 1987 sequel probably once a year, every year since their debut. But I will also shout-out the Netflix/CBC series Anne With An E - I really loved it. It captured some of the innate weirdness and the subtext of L.M. Montgomery’s work as well as the critical engagement that is missing in most adaptations. I’ll never forgive them for cancelling it.
Q. Have you ever thought about teaching a zoom knitting class for absolute beginners?
A. Nope, I would be a very poor teacher, indeed! My best advice for beginning or aspiring knitters is to go to your local yarn shop and sign up for a lesson or course and go to all of it. I tried all the books/videos on my own but there wasn’t any replacement for having a woman named Shirley boss me properly. Plus then you have someone to ask when you get stuck. (However, there are a lot of good YouTube tutorials, if that isn’t an option though.) Learning to knit isn’t hard, I promise you - it’s just a matter of practice. It brings me a lot of joy.
Q. Do you have any tips for not getting overwhelmed by the deconstruction process?
A. I think some of the best advice I got during the seasons of deconstruction was to simply allow myself to live into a few answers. I think we place a lot of pressure on ourselves to trade one set of certainties for a new set of certainties - which isn’t actually the point. Allowing yourself space, time, permission, grace to not-know some things, okay? Let yourself breathe, rest and abide in the love of God, allow yourself room to be surprised, make choices out of your best hopes, follow your curiosity, these are all things that help take the urgency out of the equation. You won’t be served by hurry or urgency. In many ways, you are being healed through the process with unending opportunities to unlearn and relearn. The thing to remember is that this isn’t an exam and you aren’t being graded - you’re already loved, now you’re learning how to live into that.
Q. What are you reading right now? watching?
A. I owe you all another book corner! (Here’s the last one.) Right now, I’m reading Brian McLaren’s new book “Do I Stay Christian?: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned,” Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko,” and - for my constant rom-com of the moment - Beth O’Leary’s new book, “The No-Show.”1 As far as watching, we have mainly been watching the NHL playoffs - hockey is my happy place. We also just finished the third season of Derry Girls which was absolute perfection.
Q. I’m writing my first book. Any words of wisdom?
A. Don’t underestimate faithfulness. Learn to be a finisher. Starting something hard is way more fun than finishing it well. Be gloriously stubborn. Stay faithful to the work, stay faithful to your calling, stay faithful to your soul. Put your bum in the chair and keep going, day after unsexy day. (Favourite books for writers is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking On Water.)
Q. What’s bringing you joy?
A. Our son Joe’s current obsession the late-60s folk revival, particularly Simon & Garfunkel (he even planted a little herb garden in their honour featuring - wait for it - Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme). Whenever Joe has a new special interest, we all have a new special interest and so yes, I could tell you all sorts of things about ol’ Art and Paul these days, bless.
Q. Do you regret being back in Alberta?
A. Nope. No place is perfect and the politics can make me petition the heavens, but I do love it here.
Q. As an Enneagram 9, do you have trouble knowing your own preferences? I can’t ever pick a favourite anything. How to even begin to figure out my own desires etc.?
A. Yes, this is a common thing for us Nines! Witness me floundering whenever a podcast interviewer tries to break the ice by asking me who my favourite Doctor (in Doctor Who) is.
Me: All of them??
So yes, for me, this has been a slow practice, almost a discipline. Even in small things, taking a minute to check in with myself to make sure I’m not just merging with the loudest voice in the room and really know what I want/need is helpful. It’s a conscious thing, for sure, and a habit to develop. For folks like us, learning to bless our own desires is a path of growth.
(And for what it’s worth, my desire does say that yes, my favourite Doctor is all of them.)
Q. Best coffee where you live?
A. I was surprised to learn that Calgary is a HUGE coffee culture place - things change in twenty-ish years! - and there are so many great coffee places here. So far my go-to spots are Deville Coffee, Higher Ground (lots of tea options there, too), and of course Phil & Sebastian.
Q. Favourite go-to Spotify playlist?
A. For writing/work time, I’ve usually got either Instrumental Study or Morning Coffee on. But I’ve been listening to a lot a lot A LOT of Brandi Carlisle lately, too especially the harmonies version of Right On Time and You and Me On the Rock (very Joni-Mitchell-esque which I love and also that line: “me out of in my garden / and you out on your walk / is all the distance this old girl can take / without listening to you talk” is pretty much my marriage described).
Q. Favourite place to find knitting patterns?
A. Ravelry website is my fave but it can be a little overwhelming. A couple of my favourite designers are Tin Can Knits (fantastic at writing patterns for beginners/novices), Megan Nodecker AKA Pip & Pin (BC-inspired), Sylvia McFadden AKA Softsweater (her shawls are my fave to knit) as a starting place.
Q. How did your kids do when you were on a church break? Can’t tell if I’m doing mine a disservice.
A. It depends. Two of our kids were badly hurt by our break with the church of their childhood and they grieved mightily. The break from church also coincided with a lot of the pandemic for us and so in a way, that pause helped us all grieve, forgive, and resolve some things. Now we’re slowly re-entering church as a family with mixed responses. I have kids who really missed church and were eager to return; others found that they needed the break and it has been hard to return. Both are valid responses. But the question about whether or not you’re doing your kids a disservice is a likely a larger conversation between you all about what you need and what they need, what you’re hoping for in this season, community, all those things.
Q. How do you deal with mom guilt?
A. Mom guilt is such bullsh*t. Ugh. And yet most of us do feel guilty. AND a lot of the reasons why we feel guilty are rooted in a systemic lack of support or value. I don’t know if there is a fix for this when our culture feels like it’s built to make moms feel guilty for everything from work to screen time to feeding kids while simultaneously denying the systemic changes that would alleviate the burdens but that’s another question/answer...
First, I speak the truth to myself and about myself. I’ll remind myself I’m a good mom and my kids know I love them etc. (I have a hard time fighting a thought with a thought so sometimes I’ll even say it aloud so my own ears can hear me saying what’s true.) Sometimes our inner self-talk as mothers is absolutely toxic: learn to talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend. I also talk to my friends about it - even a simple “me, too!” goes a long way to feeling less alone. And I’ve found it also helps alleviate any residual guilt to connect with my kids in some way - it might be talking about school or going for a walk or reading aloud or watching a show together.
However, I think it’s good for kids to see us working or being the full expression of our selves or see themselves as part of a family/community. In addition to that, I have decided it is GOOD for the kids 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 enthusiastically empowering me to do it, let them see our work as part of our family’s gift to the world. To learn that 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. Who knew?
This is getting long but I’ll add this as a bit of nuance, too: there have been times when what I wanted to dismiss as “lol mom guilt” was actual real regret about choices I made or a problem I avoided or whatever. Shrugging that off as “mom guilt” didn’t serve me and it certainly didn’t serve our family. I have needed to make changes to support their flourishing and I’m grateful now for what I learned in that - I think it made me a better mum to my individual kids with their individual needs. Learning to tell the difference between shame-based mom guilt and actual invitations from God to rethink how I’m parenting, my priorities, and what’s best for an individual kid has been so helpful.
Q. Signs of a church leader with integrity?
A. Humility. Real friendships, not just a circle of "yes, boss, you’re so anointed, boss” sycophants. A tender heart. The ability to admit when they’re wrong or unsure or even just human. Honesty.
Q. Book recommendations for a long distance read-along this summer with friends?
A. I’ll stick with more recent books here but if you’re into nonfiction as a group, I’d recommend these as good conversation starters: Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu; Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grace and Grit by Osheta Moore; or Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Du Mez. If you’re into fiction, then I’d suggest: Five Little Indians by Michelle Good; Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, or The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. (Although after talking about kid lit just below this, I’d be sorely tempted to have a kid-lit book club…)
Q. What’s something that was on your wedding registry that you still use?
A. So much! I still have 21-year-old towels in rotation from our wedding…which maybe isn’t something to brag about now that I’ve said that aloud…
To this day, I cherish two lovely crystal vases that were gifts from my grandmothers, now passed. Every time I use them for a bouquet, I think of my grandmothers with gratitude. Oh! and our friend Brittaney gave us stacking cooling racks which have come in handy in all our tiny galley kitchens over the years. Even now, with a larger kitchen, I still love how they save space on baking day. My go-to gift is usually a nice teapot.
Q. What song compels you to get up and dance?
A. Listen, if anyone can listen to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody and NOT be compelled to dance, I don’t want to know about it.
Q. Must-read kid chapter books (7-9 year old)?
A. I’m not a book censor at all. I love when our kids read and they can read what they want, whenever they want. Reading levels vary a lot at this age - one kid is reading Neil Gaiman novels and another is on Owl Diaries and both are good. At that age, they usually like the graphic novels a lot (Guts, Captain Underpants, Babysitter’s Club, etc.) which I think is just great, too. Basically the must-read book is the one they want to read, you know? If the kid is reading, rejoice! A few of the favourites that our kids have loved around that age are:
Roald Dahl books (Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches etc.) - Anne has this collection and she read them all cover to cover multiple times then.
The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary - the audiobooks were a hit on a roadtrip
Stuart Little by E.B. White (also Charlotte’s Web)
The Ivy & Bean series (Anne loved these)
The Warriors series (Joe loved these)
Louis Sachar books (Wayside School series always got some good laughs)
Refugee by Alan Gratz (this is probably more 10+ but Joe and Anne both started reading Gratz around this age and loved them.)
Some of my favourite books are the ones written for 9-12 year olds when they do a little jump-up in maturity so it’s paining me to avoid those but goodness, kid lit is so great.
Thank you for so many good, thoughtful questions and I’m sorry I couldn’t answer all of them. We’ll do this again soon!
P.S. A lot of AMA questions do repeat each time so if your particular question wasn’t answered; it’s quite possible it’s already been done so here is the last AMA, as well as October’s AMA, August’s AMA, June 2021’s AMA, and December’s AMA for you.
In case you missed these Field Notes:
An ordinary thing to love - for subscribers
For Uvalde, and the borderless chorus - for everyone
Turns out, it’s not a vibe shift: Links and Clicks Worth Reading - for subscribers
Be the head, not the tail (exclusive essay + audio) - for subscribers
An oasis in the wilderness + 3 big announcements - for everyone
As usual we’re using Amazon for our links for books. After many attempts to direct folks elsewhere or find better options, this has been the most consistently accessible for everyone regardless of income, location, and accessibility needs. Email links in your inbox are not affiliate links but if you are here on the webpage itself, the reading list affiliate links and the Kindle Deals are to Amazon which kicks a few pennies back to me. However, you can often and preferably find these books at your local library or local bookseller.