faith, She Loves Magazine, Writing Elsewhere

Rise out of Rootedness (She Loves)

February 2, 2017

We left the sliding doors of our minivan open as we slowly drove away from the ranger’s station and into the forest. After the summer heat of Beirut and the coastal towns we’d been visiting the past week, this fresh mountain air was a relief and a balm. The breeze drifted through the car as we rounded each bend of the mountainside, carrying the smell of pine needles and honey.

Today our friends had brought us to see the great Cedars of Lebanon. They grace Lebanon’s flag, they appear in our holy scriptures—the very Temple of God was built by Solomon from their wood. But today, just 13% of Lebanon’s cedar forest remain, after centuries of deforestation by countless invaders and traders. They are an endangered species.

At the top of the hill we parked the car, and a ranger walked us through the glade of ancient trees, some many hundreds of years old. They are slow growing, these stunning trees, their trunks winding around and up with beautiful curves, like a woman becoming comfortable with the strength and allure of her own body.

And their roots go deep, roots that will allow them to endure the snowy winters and dry summers, to thrive in that mountainous terrain.

The memory of wandering under the ancient branches of those trees stays with me in such a vivid way that I can almost smell their pine needles still. They have been speaking to me ever since that trip, and this is what I have heard: we need to go deep before we can go high. But that going deep? It happens as life is going on—as bitter winters freeze us and warm summers satisfy us.

 

Read the rest of this post at She Loves Magazine … 

faith, motherhood

On choosing to have a DIY baby dedication

January 25, 2017
Oskar's DIY Dedication

When Kaya was five months old, we dedicated her and ourselves to God, in a little ceremony at our church in Luxembourg. I squeezed her chubby body into the only white dress I had for her, her godparents stood up next to us, and we promised to let God be our guide as we raise her, to trust her to his love and grace.

Fast forward two years, and our son, Oskar James, was already eleven months and undedicated. We moved country mid-pregnancy and he was born in the living room of our rental house a few months later. When we got here we did the good Christian thing of visiting local churches with the view to quickly finding one to settle in. But we haven’t settled. We visited some great churches, but for a lot of reasons the last few months our Sunday mornings have been more likely to consist of making pancakes in our pyjamas and building duplo towers. And we’re ok with that for now.

But it presented a dilemma when we wanted to dedicate Oskar. We could arrange to do it at one of the churches we’d visited, but the idea that most of the congregation would be turning to their neighbour asking, “who are they?” when we walked up front made me feel really uncomfortable. Our pastor in Luxembourg kindly offered to do it back there if we visited, and that community will always feel like family, so the idea was attractive.

One day I asked Rasmus what he thought about doing a DIY dedication. We’ll invite our family and just a few friends, I told him. We can use the same script that we had for Kaya (which I mostly wrote myself) and keep it really simple. I think I was a little surprised when he quickly agreed.

And so it happened this past Sunday. My family and Oskar’s god/guideparents came over, including our dear friends from Copenhagen. We waited until he woke up from his morning nap, made cups of tea and coffee for everyone and then gathered around.

Our living room is not big, and we were nine adults and two little ones. But that meant that the circle was tight. Rasmus and I sat on the floor in front of the fireplace. Kaya and Oskar trundled around between all of us – Kaya moving from lap to lap, Oskar keeping up the continual movement of a baby who has just achieved the freedom of walking.

We sat in that circle and made promises to our son. Rather than the more formal question-answer structure of a church ceremony, we chose to just speak our promises directly to him. We promised that our love would be unconditional, to try to be good at saying sorry, quick to forgive. We promised to model the radically inclusive and grace-filled ways of Jesus to him, and to pray for him continually.

And we spoke blessings over him, blessing him with the values we hope he will embody as he grows – with kindness, curiosity, courage, hospitality, and love, oh most of all love. 

My parents and sister prayed for us, and our friends confirmed their willingness to be an intentional and loving presence in Oskar’s life.

And then that was it. We asked Kaya what we should do next and her eyes lit up. “CAKE!” So we served up the cake that she and I had baked that morning in our pyjamas and I sat in that circle of love, eating my cake and feeling such a sense of contentment and peace.

Oskar is my holy interruption. I didn’t plan to be pregnant again so soon after Kaya, and I was not entirely impressed with the timing, coming as he did in the middle of an international move and pretty effectively squashing all my dreams for what our life here was going to look like. But I have never not wanted him. This past year has been intense and frequently hard, but it feels like perfect timing that we dedicate him just a month before his birthday. Now I stand with nearly twelve months of hindsight and it feels like pure grace to enclose him within this small circle of love, to proclaim him beloved.

If it felt meaningful, I recognised this week that it is because our own little circle of love was encircled in a deeper and everlasting love, the love of God. That love flows in us and through us to that toddling boy in our midst, and will sustain us and him as long as our hearts remain open to it, and even then it won’t fail. God’s love never fails.

 

Oskar James, you have been loved since long before you were born.  Your parents were blessed with your arrival and we consider your presence in our lives to be a gift of God. As a little baby your parents cover and clothe you in their love and with their faith. As you grow, may faith grow with you. May you find the presence of Christ your clothing and protection. And year by year may the knowledge of His presence be greater for you, that daily you may put on Christ and walk as His own in the world. Amen. 

(adapted very slightly from the Northumbria Community Celtic Daily Prayer)

faith, motherhood

made in the image (the thought that’s changing my parenting)

January 17, 2017
Made in the Image of God - the thought that changed my parenting // Fiona Lynne Koefoed-Jespersen

If you were to ask me what some of the key spiritual ideas I want to give my children are, one of the ones right up top would be that they are made in the image of God.

It’s a foundational truth for Judaism and Christianity, and it is given to us in the first pages of our scriptures, in the Creation story that was told amongst the Israelites. The story goes that God has been creating the world – the seas and the skies, the plants and the animals – and then the passage reads, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The idea that we resemble God, like a child resembles its parent, or how a painting somehow speaks something of the character of the artist.

Apparently the Hebrew word for image, is tselem, and comes “from an unused root meaning to shade”*. I’m no scholar so I can’t say much to that except that I love the idea that we are like God’s shadow, having the same shape, walking and moving the same way. And yet I think it’s more colourful even that that! We sometimes describe children as our shadows when they take to following us around, doing as we do. Kaya often comes out with phrases that I recognise as my own, she dances like me (sorry sweetie!), she already has habits picked up from her Far and I. In the same way, we all resemble the divine in some central and unbreakable way – we grow up looking and behaving like God! – and that is a beautiful and empowering thought.

It’s important to me that Kaya and Oskar growing up knowing this first – that they are made in the image of God and that God looks at them and says that they are “very good” (“original goodness”). Many churches emphasise our brokenness (“original sin”) but I think that’s like starting the story in the middle of the book. I want them to know their belovedness as the core of who they are as people.

I’ve thought this way since before they were born, but in the autumn I spent an evening studying this concept again for a course I am on. I came home that night with Kaya on my mind. She is two and half, and she is developing so fast – new words every day, understanding concepts and figuring out new skills, learning how to interact with adults and other children and her newly-mobile little brother. And all that newness is both an exciting and scary place for her to inhabit.

I realised that evening, that I had not been treating her as if she was made in the image of God. Not really. I’d been approaching her more as an unfinished creation, a project that God had started off but I needed to complete. I was acting as if my role as a parent was to mould her and shape her into the person she was meant to be, created to be.

Instead I was struck by this simple and profound realisation: she is already whole and perfectly formed. That’s part of what it means that she is made in the image of God. I don’t have to try and force her into God’s likeness, because she already completely resembles God, just as she is. 

Maybe it sounds like a subtle shift, and I guess it was, but from the next morning I was behaving differently towards her. I tried to see her as a fully formed person, as equal to me in that sense, with her right to her own viewpoints and emotions, the right to make her own mistakes and she grows. I was no longer trying to squash or deny the parts of her that I felt didn’t fit – which was all the stuff that people would categorise under the heading “terrible twos” but which I came to realise was just her being a normal developing person. 

What does this change look like? I try not to rush her through her emotions. If she is upset at something, even something I see as ridiculously insignificant, I remember that it is important to her and let her cry/sulk/get angry for as long as she needs to. If she’s being loud or silly in public, I remember she’s perfectly entitled to be loud and silly if she is comfortable being that way. When she wants something from me, I try to take her request seriously, not blowing it off but responding to it respectfully (even when I say no). If she refuses to be helpful in one moment, I remind myself that this moment is not the sum total of her personality (she is kind, she is helpful, she is generous), and that she is learning those values from watching me – so getting angry and stroppy in response is hardly the right move!

The thought that my two year old is made in the image of God, also releases me from the overwhelming burden of responsibility that starting with a concept of original sin often lays upon us. According to that theology, my child is profoundly broken from day one and I need to fix her, somehow make her good enough for society, and even for God. Starting with the concept of her original goodness doesn’t of course release me from all the normal responsibilities of being a parent – I am still her primary guide as she navigates these early years, and develops her own understanding of who she is and how the world works – but she is not broken and she does not need fixing. No, she is profoundly wonderful, full of goodness, growing up as a little girl resembling her Creator.

Let me end by saying this in no way made me the perfect parent. I am frequently impatient and selfish, angry and disrespectful. But even though I mess up, like my children I am made in the image of God, a God who looks at me and says, “very good”. So always, I begin again. Take a breath, begin again. And again. And again…

 

 

*I use a website called blue letter bible when I’m curious about the original Hebrew or Greek. It will tell you which words are used and where else in the Bible they crop up. I can fall down some fun rabbit holes there! Ancient Hebrew is complicated so I don’t pretend to suddenly have any incredible knowledge, but sometimes just the reminder of where and how else that word is used can illuminate a connection in my own life that I might not have seen.