I wrote this in July 2015. I've been sitting on it for a while.

Although they both grew up in church, my parents trace their real conversion to the time of my mother's pregnancy with me. I was born as they were born again.

As a family, we worked our way through Methodism, Union Congregationalist, Nazarene, Southern Baptist, Swedish Baptist, charismatic, Bible, non-denominational and probably others I'm forgetting. The variety was mostly owed to our constant moving around, but I thought it gave me a fairly good idea of the scope of Protestant Christianity.

Of course, I did not understand that these were primarily evangelical churches bent toward the conservative and marked by their regions. I didn't know what a "mainline" denomination was and I certainly didn't consider that a person could be an actual Christian without attending any sort of church.

I began to grow weary of church in my twenties but still wanted to worship with others. I found myself in a community of believers who felt the same way - burned out but not ready to throw in the towel. Millenials ready for something new (modern music, cool pastors, artsy environment) with a nod to the past (liturgy, hymns, saints). I met my husband here and experienced true "community" - a sharing of lives that was authentic and compassionate. "Social justice" was a buzzword that actually led to action. And (gasp) women were allowed to do things like preach and be a deacon.

This was a great place for me until it wasn't. I became disillusioned with the cult personalities and the inconsistencies. Its ties to a denomination couldn't be hidden forever and the nuances of inequality became apparent. It was time to move on, again, grateful for experiences had and lessons learned.

My husband and I embarked on a "church tour", visiting mainline and fringe and everything Christian in between. We kept this up long enough to land at a Black Methodist church that we attended and adored until we moved abroad.

Methodists on the other side of the Pond are similar but different, and we felt welcome enough in the church the next village over that we stayed. Lay-led and tiny, we did a lot of work, and mostly that was ok. There was a rather classic divide between old and young. They were headed for a split when I had a baby and we decided it was time to find somewhere else.

The sleeplessness of early motherhood did not inspire me to get up for a service I didn't absolutely love, so we didn't go much of anywhere during the first year of my daughter's life. We had conversations about what church was and who God is and why we even needed/wanted corporate worship gatherings. I grew up hearing and feeling that without substantial Christian fellowship and in-depth Bible-teaching one would surely backslide or become complacent.

We ended up at a small Quaker meetinghouse with the notion that the Friends advocate peace and justice and simplicity and we needed/stood for those things. Prior research on silent worship did not prepare us for the responsibility of it. Sharing the Light with others and Listening to the Spirit is a lot more daunting than it seems. In the first meeting, I really think I heard God say, "I'm still here, we just have to do a lot of excavation."

So that's what it's been the last 9 months, excavating.

Having a child challenges your thinking on most things. What sort of faith environment do we want our daughter to experience? What kind of messages do we want her to receive as she grows up?

I learned a lot of great faith lessons throughout my formative years and my closest relationships were formed through church. I'm grateful for my evangelical upbringing and my spiritual framework.

However, I absorbed some negative lessons that I'm trying to undo and don't want to pass on. Explicitly and implicitly, the Christian subculture propagated battles of culture wars that I don't think were/are worth it.

Did you know that committed Christians can also be Democrats, gay, pro-choice, feminists, and pacificists? I didn't get that memo from much of my church experience.

So now that we've chosen to be a part of a worship community that is, in many ways, radically different from the churches of my youth, I feel rather untethered. It feels like I'm being unfaithful to my church tradition, cheating on my subculture and disappointing my family.

Quakers favor equality so much that they don't even have a hierarchy (all are equal in the family of God, and even my 2-year-old daughter is considered a minister). The idea that a woman couldn't be a leader in ministry would be ludicrous. They are LGBTQ affirming - meaning they don't just think it's not the worst thing to not be straight, LGBTQ folks are actually full and open members/ministers. As peace is a cornerstone of Quakerism, there are no battle cries of winning souls and culture. The Bible is the most important spiritual text, but might not be 100% accurate, and the Q'uran and Buddha have some useful things to say. In a silent meeting, no one is going to spell out the Gospel, but they trust the Spirit. Heaven and hell aren't clearly defined and the Light doesn't stop extending past those who tick all the boxes of traditional Christian tasks.

I had hoped Quakerism would be a nice break. But it's a challenge. I have to take more responsibility for my spiritual growth than when I followed the outline provided in previous churches. I have to evaluate, with more openness, the Light in others.

I also struggle to communicate this without sounding like I've somehow left Christianity altogether. Or that I think those faithful to evangelical churches and the associated tenets are delusional, misinformed, or hateful. Each time we would visit a church, we'd say something like, "I can tell God is working here and I can see why this works for the people who are a part of it." It just doesn't have to work for us.

God is everlasting but institutions aren't. The way we interpret the Bible and hear Jesus and teach each other is subjective. Changing hopefully means growth, not regression. We could decide to try something different altogether sometime soon (Mennonite? Church of England?).

We are all seeking God in our way, together. This should be a reason for joy and comfort - a way positively tie us to our past and move us forward in Love.

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Comics I Love: Ms Marvel

Last year for Christmas, LKH got me a pretty amazing gift, a year-long subscription to Marvel Unlimited, Marvel Comics' online reading service that gives users access to all of Marvels digital comics up to about six months ago. It is an amazing service for comic fans like me who haven't collected in a long time and want to catch up with all their old favourites.

Aside from the joy of catching up with X-Men and Spider-Man, I was able to read the first arc in one of Marvel's recently launched titles, Ms. Marvel. I am a little late to the Kamala Khan love-fest, but this book is too good not to add my praises.

If you are a comics fan, you have surely heard of Kamala Khan by this point. She is one of the most high profile characters Marvel has introduced in years, and critics have lauded the book. For any of you uninitiated to its marvels (see what I did there), Kamala is a Pakistani-American teen growing up in her hometown of Jersey City. She is exposed to Terrigen Mists (a common source for superpowers in the Marvel Universe), and she gains the ability to alter her size and shape. This is a dream come true for Kamala who is a total superhero fangirl and takes on the recently abandoned codename of her idol, Carol Danvers (now known as Captain Marvel - another book you should check out). She protects her hometown from superhuman threats while trying to live a normal teenage life.

Her comic has the most parallels to early Spider-Man, but what makes it particularly interesting is that it adds an element that is often lacking from superhero comics, religious faith. Kamala is Muslim, and her faith and Pakistani heritage play large roles in her identity as much as she wrestles with both. It is refreshing to see a comic deal with religion in such a respectful and thoughtful way. Given that the editor, Sana Amanat, used inspiration from her own life in the creation of the character, and that she hired another Muslim woman, G. Willow Wilson, to write the book, it should be no surprise that the character's personal life feels so particularly well developed. (I should also take a quick moment to mention how much I love Adrian Alphona's art in this book as well.)

What I love most about the book is how normal her adolescent struggles are, starting with her relationships. Her parents are loving, but she finds them overprotective. Her brother is very devout, and she thinks this is a bit weird. Her female best friend is rebellious, which she admires though she tends to be a bit more of a rule follower. Her male best friend annoys her most of the time though he also helps her quite a bit and harbours a secret crush.
After hearing all the accolades about this new hero, I was intrigued, but I was probably most surprised by how much I could relate my own life to hers. She is a good kid who is a complete nerd and makes good grades. (Sounds familiar.) She is devoted to her faith though some aspects of it really drive her crazy. (Yeah, been there.) She wants to make a positive difference in her community, and she abhors violence. (This is starting to be a little too familiar.)

I worried Marvel might tokenise her a little, particularly with all they did to promote the book, but the artists working on this have far too much respect for the character and what she represents to allow that. Instead they have created a character who normalises the experiences of adolescents from minority backgrounds. It is hard to imagine anyone reading this book and not being able to relate to it in some way, and it is almost as hard to imagine them not loving Kamala almost immediately. We need more positive portrayals of Muslims in popular culture, and Ms. Marvel sets the standard.

Minor spoilers ahead: My favourite part of the first arc is early on when Kamala first gains her powers. She cannot control them consciously and has accidentally transformed into the likeness of Carol Danvers, her idol. Her response is surprising, even to herself. She always assumed that being white, blonde, beautiful, and powerful would solve all her problems. She idealised whiteness and heroism. When she finds herself in Ms Marvel's body, she is actually disturbed. She isn't Kamala anymore, and the tight fitting clothes are embarrassing. She feels like an imposter and wants to go back to normal. In just a few masterful panels, this book captures so poignantly the coming of age and assimilation issues that many minority teens face. From that point on, I was hooked. Her team up with Wolverine later on in the arc is another highlight as it forces her to consider whether it is possible to be a superhero without resorting to violence to protect people.

I also love the dorky humour in this book. It deals with serious issues, but the humour prevents it from becoming too heavy-handed. It also just makes it really fun to read. When the latest issue appears in my library, I am always very excited to jump in. That says quite a bit about the quality of the book because I am clearly not the target audience.

When Dash is old enough for comics, this is the first one I want to introduce her to. There are few other superheroes I would more want her to emulate.

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Toddler Traveler Challenges

Travel has always been an important part of our lives and we have been determined to keep it up since we brought a child into our world. Living in London, frequent work breaks, budgeting, travel experience and a child with an adventurous/adaptable temperament have all made this possible.

That's not to say it comes without challenges. Here are some things our 2-year-old did on our latest holiday to Edinburgh:

* We began our drive at 4 - she fell asleep immediately for 2 hours. By the time we stopped for dinner and got back in the car, she was wide awake and impossible to entertain for the dark hours (enter cartoons on the iPad - she probably had it planned that way).

* The Edinburgh Zoo has two pandas (there are only 6 in Europe). You have to book tickets ahead of time in 15-minute increments to see them. It's a huge deal and the pandas are so cute. As we listened to the keeper talk in the panda exhibit, Dash laid down on the floor and shouted, "no pandas! want see monkeys!"

* Laying down in protest is apparently her new thing - which was inconvenient because she did it just about everywhere. On busy Princes Street, at the coast, in abbey ruins, at the park (because it wasn't a playground), on multiple sidewalks, etc. The best incident occurred in the throne room of Hollyrood Palace. It's almost like she was saying, "I'm the queen!"

* We rarely stay in hotels anymore because it's cheaper to rent an apartment, nice to have more than one room and (perhaps most importantly) we don't have to tidy up before we leave in the mornings. Dash left this place relatively intact - apart from drawing on the door, flooding the bathroom (by pouring cups of water from the bath tap on the floor) and getting her fingers stuck in the closet.

* Her preferred mode of transportation is for us to carry her - but not in a proper carrier because that's too restrictive. The stroller is fine for a bit, walking is ok for a while. But she wants to be carried on our hip or maybe Daddy's shoulders. To entice her to walk, we made up games. Like, we picked up a handful of leaves and promised to throw them if she walked to the lamppost. Or, we hid behind stone pillars at the palace so she would chase us there. It got a little ridiculous.

Really, all of these things would have occurred at home. Insert "supermarket" for "throne room" or "local sidewalk" for "Princes Street," etc., you get the idea. Why not be somewhere different and interesting for these antics?

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Dear George Ezra: Your Biggest Fan is a Two-year-old Girl

My two-year-old daughter, Daphne, is truly your biggest fan.

As an infant, Daphne hated the car. Driving was the worst kind of torture for all of us. In an attempt to soothe everyone, I put on Wanted on Voyage. For some reason or another, she decided she liked you. So your CD stayed in the car, on repeat.

By the time she turned one, my husband and I made sure we had your album on our phones at the ready. It calmed her down, made her smile and helped everyone breathe. When my parents came to visit, they frantically asked, "What's the name of the artist she likes so we can download?"

It's a kind of magic. I wish we had video of how, mid-meltdown, we'd turn on one of your songs and she'd stop crying. Or how she'd wiggle her shoulders to your music before she could stand.

By the time she could talk, she began to request you. "Ezwa?"

I'm not a fan of "kid" music, so I'm ever so grateful that she latched onto you. No "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" here - just "Blame it on Me." Songs 1-6 are her favourite. Sometimes we get to 7 and she fusses for us to start over. "Cassio" is perhaps the best, as we change it to "Daphne-o." Each time we try to introduce a new artist, she protests.

She is much too impatient to wait between songs. "More! More!" she exclaims during the five-second break.

It's fitting that she decided to love a travel-themed album. We've taken her to six countries and even been to Budapest so far - taking you with us everywhere.

So, thank you. Thank you for making my daughter so happy. Thank you for not making us listen to kid songs over and over. Thank you for creating music that delights a very special little girl and inspires her parents.

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Breastfeeding: the Ending

I heard very few weaning stories before it was time for Dash and I to finish our nursing relationship. More would have been helpful, so here's mine.

I hoped to breastfeed for two years (or longer), given the research I had done about the health and psychological benefits for both of us. I also said I would breastfeed for as long as it was good for both of us, even if that didn't meet my timeframe.

After I got through the first three months of feeding, breastfeeding honestly didn't feel like a chore. We had an incredible bond, my husband was incredibly supportive and (bonus) I ate whatever I wanted and lost weight. As I was on maternity leave for a year (thanks, England!), she was with me all the time and bf on demand made her disdain for bottle easier to cope with. I was lucky and had few issues (an early tongue tie, mastitis once) and even though she fed every few hours day and night it was such a part of the rhythm of my life that I didn't mind so much. Of course, I had my moments/days of wanting to stop immediately because I felt she was sucking the life out of me, but those were few and far between.

At ten months, I was over night feeding and we did Jay Gordon's gentle night weaning program which worked well for us. I occasionally fed her during the night (especially during times of teething or travel), but for the most part, continued to nurse D throughout the day whenever she asked.

Around 14 months, I dropped to three feeds per day - morning, afternoon and night. This was good for my part-time teaching schedule and made me feel more freedom. Again, this wasn't a hard and fast rule, but a general pattern. I also stopped feeding from the right side as my milk supply had basically dried up and she always preferred the left anyway.

Around 18 months, she started going to sleep on her own. Although she didn't need me to feed her to sleep since about a year, I did much of the time because it was easy and special. But she suddenly started sleeping better and began to enjoy a little time on her own before sleep at night. She slept longer stretches (which made me feel great because I had heard from soooo many people that breastfed babies don't sleep well and weaning them is what changes that). All of this occurred as the natural progression of her independence.

As she was losing interest in breastfeeding and I was losing patience with it, I dropped the afternoon feed and shortly thereafter dropped the morning. At that point, it was clear that we were both ready to end that part of our relationship, but I went back and forth about it.

At 19 months, I planned for my last feed to be the night before our two-week spring break started and my parents arrived for a long visit. I figured this process was going to be harder on me than it was on Dash, so I wanted the extra support of my family and the distraction of a holiday.

I didn't know how insane the hormonal change would make me feel. I got terrible acne (worse than when I was pregnant) and ugly cried on multiple occasions. Emotionally, the grief was so intense that I felt like someone was dying. I was mourning the end of this relationship (with a hefty dose of hormones). I had shared my body with my baby for nearly 10 months of pregnancy and 20 months of breastfeeding. As we don't plan to have another biological baby, I knew this would be my only experience.

The second to last feed was actually the hardest. I don't know why necessarily. Our last time nursing was a Friday, and we spent the whole day together. We went to lunch and shopping (I bought myself a weaning present) and took a cuddle nap. My partner was working that night so we had a quick, sweet (except that she bit me for the first time in ages) feed in the "milk chair" and that was that.

My parents arrived, E and I spent the night away together, and then we all went on a trip. I was happy, my skin was clearing and I had come to terms with the decision to stop breastfeeding. Because I stopped so gradually, I had no pain or soreness.

Dash's grief hadn't caught up to her until Easter Sunday, nearly 10 days after the last feed. She was rather ill and overstimulated and overtired and she reverted. She asked me for milk, lunged for my breast and sobbed when I said that milk was all done. She wouldn't let me even hold her, so I laid on the bed next to her and we both cried ourselves to sleep. It was awful.

I went to my parent's hotel room and climbed in bed next to my mom. She assured me that I was a good mom, I had had a special nursing relationship and there would be other transitions in our mother/daughter relationship that would be much more challenging than this one (like when your daughter moves away to England - not that she's still upset about that :). Dash woke up happy and played with the grandparents while Eric held me as I watched hours of TV, exhausted.

After Easter, all was well. This transition sounds dramatic because it was for me... I know others for whom it's been more smooth and others for whom it's been more painful because it wasn't their choice. I am SO glad I have pictures of Dash feeding at my breast. I recommend all mamas take photos of their babies feeding (breast, bottle, whatever) because it is such a huge and defining part of your life.

Thankfully, Dash still likes to drink her milk in my lap, cuddled in the nursing position (for a few moments anyway). I treasure my nursling.

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Rambling poem

Hope is a wellspring.
Love is indeterminant.
Rising above it all because I'm still worthwhile.
Finding new paths.
The best revenge is a life well lived.
Hope is a waterfall.
Love is hard.
Growing up,
Growing older,
Growing together,
Growing apart.
Small unit strengthens and it's enough.
Tragedy is not an event.
Racism is not past.
Terror is not what we think it is.
Just so tired.
Even dreams aren't restful.
Friends are my society.
Stillness can be moving.
Peace can be empowering.
Real justice is not earthly.
Reconsidering spirituality and it's not scary.
Christ is still center but there's no belt on my bible.
Becoming an Ally.
Or trying.
Hope is a rainy day.
The Gospel is peace.
My uncertainty might be strength.
Take a risk.
Suffer judgement.
Seek equality.
Endure scorn.
Few are willing to stand up.
Injustice is overwhelming.
Paralyzed by the fear that I contribute.
But not enough to make all the changes.
How many lives.
Hope is a river.
Blue eyes, curly hair.
So much love.
Moving onwards,
Moving upwards.
Coming to terms and still unsettled.
Clinging to hope.
Holding to love.

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Travel Tip Tuesday: Piqued Interest

A few years ago, I was watching a programme of house hunters searching for a holiday home in Slovenia. I had never heard of Slovenia. I was kind of embarrassed about that because it looked so beautiful. We are finally going to make our way there on an upcoming holiday.

Lake Bled, Slovenia by Mark Gregory via Flickr

When I mentioned to a friend that we would be in France for Christmas, she said she'd be in Aix-en-Provence with her family if we wanted to meet up. I knew not one thing about Aix, but her description got me interested and after a bit or research we decided to spend four days there. What a charming town!

"Budapest is the new Prague" said a friend of a friend. This was kind of a ridiculous thing to say, but it perked my ears to both cities. I looked them both up, we went eventually to both and loved them.

All this to say inspiration for travel can come from a number of places. In my early galavanting across Europe I stuck to the tried and true London, Paris and Italy plan. I thoroughly enjoyed those trips but am glad to have ventured further from the norm.

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