Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Ahead

As one year draws to a close and a new one begins, my thoughts always turn to what is coming. As a result of writing in this blog every day, I have been reflecting on my life in a new way over the past year, and I have found that the exercise of thinking more about what I do and why I do it has been profoundly helpful. On this last day of 2010, I encourage you to consider what worked well over the past year, and what could be improved as you move forward into 2011.

If I could order up the next season of my life, I would request one that is peaceful and calm, where we are all healthy and kind, discovering more love and joy than we've ever possessed before. I would ask for continued freedom to speak what is in my heart, mind and soul, and the courage to be who I am even under duress.

As I've discovered clearly over the past six months, I am not in charge of what happens to me, but how I respond is fully under my control. This knowledge has freed me from my victim personality, where I felt at the mercy of other people's responses, and has put me back in the driver's seat of my own life. As I look forward to what is coming next, I am excited to put this new perspective into practice and make it into a habit of positivity instead of pessimism.

I have dreamed for years about being who I really am, and not feeling afraid to be the same person in every circumstance and situation I'm in. This year that dream came true, and like a flower opening slowly to the sun and rain, I have turned into who I was meant to be, and I'm not changing her to make anyone else more comfortable. I want to give this freedom to my kids in 2011, and be more aware of encouraging them to be fully themselves in all settings, so they don't create personalities to suit other people. I want them to know that who they are is always enough.

I learned to be kinder and more accepting over the last year, and I hope to continue that journey. I want to leave the judgements and criticisms behind, and embrace love and grace. I have seen how beautiful mercy can be when I have failed, and I want to live with mercy on a daily basis instead of condemnation. I am not perfect, and that is as it should be, and no one else is perfect either. Anyone who attempts perfection will certainly fail, and if I want grace extended to me, I must do the same for everyone in my life.

This blog experiment began as a six week project to get me writing on a daily basis, and somehow over the six weeks in January and February I began to come alive in an entirely new way. As more readers began to follow the blog and read my posts on a daily basis, my confidence in myself started to grow, and I felt able to take more risks, both personally and in my writing. Your feedback and encouragement to me as readers has transformed both who I am and how I communicate. My love for writing has grown, and my confidence in equal measure, and as a result I have risked more of myself in order to go for my dream as a professional writer.

I am so unbelievably grateful for 2010. I changed and grew into a person I hardly recognize, but I'm proud to be who I am, and to go forward from here with these new roots digging deeper into the soil and grounding me for my future. Thank you for reading and commenting and giving so much back to me. I can't wait to turn the page on the calendar tomorrow and see what the challenges and pain of this year are going to bring to what I experience in 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tree Roots

When I think back on this year, the picture that comes to mind is a tree with roots that have grown deep into the soil. The process of growing is uncomfortably painful, and terrifying, and you want to be settled and not stretched when it is happening to you. But when you look back, you can see what was actually happening, and I can feel those roots firmly holding me in place.

I have grown into who I am. I have slowly begun to understand my own value, and stand up for it with myself and my family. I have strengthened my own boundaries so I won't give to make things easier for others when it is damaging a part of myself. I have seen a miraculous change in my relationship with my son, so my mothering has improved as a result of this difficult season in my life.

I feel as though I only breathed shallowly for most of my life, and now I have the lung capacity and the time to breathe deeply, in and out, every minute of every day. I used to feel like a rat on a wheel, running frantically but not actually going anywhere, and now I have a purpose which is supported by my actions, for the first time ever.

Sometimes we just need permission to experiment with new things. We need to feel it is acceptable to change; to alter our ways and try alternate ways of existing in this world. Meeting with the psychologist about William this summer did that for me. She gave me new eyes to see my relationship with my son, and in turn that opened up everything else in my life to see what was working and what wasn't.

Jason ran for town council and traveled a lot for work, and both of those things gave me space to understand who I am in my marriage, so while I was examining why I mothered the way I did, I could also look at how I was functioning as a wife. There were many ways I could change to be sure my needs were met as well as his, and I did make those changes. It was rocky for a little while, and now it's getting stronger between us, because I am stronger, and am learning to ask for my fair share.

Getting out from under my need to be perfect and in full control has been the most liberating part of the last year. Not writing for the last six weeks or so has changed me from the inside out. I needed to understand that my value is not in what I produce, but in who I am, and I could only get there by facing my deepest fears and walking through them. I learned to relax, and unwind, and enjoy the moment I'm living in without stressing about all that I'm not accomplishing. Who I am is enough, in any given moment, for the people in my life, and the rest will come in its own time.

I'm incredibly excited about the new year. All kinds of possibilities await all of us. I know I have more to learn, and more personal growth ahead of me, but for now, I'm enjoying how far I've already come. I like the view from this point on. The future is bright, and my tree roots are deeper than they've ever been before, so when the cold winds come, I'll be better able to withstand the hard times.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back to the Future

On Boxing Day, we picked up the Back to the Future DVD trilogy to watch with the kids. I saw the original in the theatre when I was twelve years old and it was one of the key movies to spark my imagination and love for cinema as a child. I responded to the creativity of the story and the sophisticated humour. I remember thinking about the movie for weeks after I saw it, and was excited to share it with my kids.

We settled down after a swim and dinner last night to watch it with Jason's parents. Ava laughed in all of the right spots, and we enjoyed explaining some of the finer points of life in the 50's to both of the kids. I saw my joy as a twelve year old, seeing this movie for the first time, reflected in the face of my almost-eight year old daughter. I felt like I was riding a wave of happy sentimentality last night, and I love that my kids are old enough to share some of these memories with them.

Parenting is filled with many highs and lows. Often I panic that I'm not getting it right, and then other times I bask in the joys of specific moments when it is all going my way, and I recognize that my kids are thriving. Last night I experienced the satisfaction of knowing that I'm writing regularly now, and in doing so I'm finally accessing a big piece of my purpose for being alive. In a very real way, I'm going back to my own future, and I can see that I still have time to accomplish what I have in my mind to do with my writing, my kids and the rest of my life.

For so long, I had a dream but no real foundation under it. Now I'm building that support system, brick by brick, and in testing it out I'm discovering I can put a little weight on it. There is enough substance there, but I can also see that I don't have to build it all at once. Raising my kids and pouring into them at each stage is important too, as is building up my marriage, and investing in my friends and family.

Life is about moving pieces. For some of the summer and all of the fall, my pieces weren't jelling and I felt disconnected and off-balance, but what I learned in that difficult time is helping me now that everything is falling back into place. Life is about seasons, and coordinating our past, present and future all at the same time. It's about acquiring one skill and figuring out how to add it in to the other skills we possess.

For this moment, I'm so grateful for what I have learned and what I am currently learning. I know I don't have to understand everything today. I can keep working on myself for the rest of my life. I have the time. Today I will focus on what is in front of me, and do the same thing tomorrow, and for the rest of my days. I feel ridiculously hopeful right now, and I'll soak up what I can to sustain me for when the hard times come.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


We've all heard it said that attitude is everything. It sounds trite, but I'm discovering how true it really is. When something happens to us, or we get bad news, the only thing we can control is our reaction to it. I used to waste a lot of time being surly and angry when things would go wrong, throwing up my hands metaphorically and wondering aloud, "Why me?"

That kind of brooding only brought me more misery and frustration. One thing about getting older is that the highs are not quite as high, but the same thing is true for the lows. They don't devastate me like they used to, but that's also because I've removed their sting. If we don't allow negative thoughts and feelings to control us, we become liberated from them.

Things continue to disappoint me, on a daily basis, but I can either allow them to bring my attitude down, or I can focus on the many good things in my life and let the bad things go. I don't want to nurse my grudges any more, because the more attention I pay to those things, the higher priority level they hold in my life.

It's hard to let certain things go. We build situations up in our minds and can be deeply hurt when it doesn't go our way and we are pushed aside, yet again, for other people or priorities. It helps to recognize that we can't control the outcome of what other people choose, but we can control our attitude and reaction. We can't help feeling disappointed, but after that initial hurt, we can stew in our rage or we can forgive and move on.

I like the idea of modeling this kind of attitude shift for my kids. There is a chance that they won't spend half of their lives angry about things that aren't in their control if I can show them a better way right out of the gate. It doesn't change the situation to alter my attitude, but it changes me; making me softer and kinder and more accepting and pliable. I like that change, from rigid to flexible.

I used to view all change as bad, and I feared any variation on my carefully laid plans, but now I understand that change is inevitable. It will happen to us, continually, but I am in charge of how I react to what disrupts my plans. Looking at it as a challenge helps me with my disappointment when things veer off course. Every time my schedule is altered, I can practice meeting the change with a positive attitude. I don't have to panic or be angry. I can feel disappointed, and then look on the bright side, and I don't have to waste precious energy and outlook punishing anyone.

Monday, December 27, 2010

People In Their Own Right

My favourite gifts on Christmas morning were from both of my children. Ava gave me a pair of dangly earrings that she picked out for me at our local craft fair in November, and she also gave me a card she made at school with a personal message that she wrote inside. The sweetness of her personality really came through in the card, and the fact that she wrote, "I love you soooooooooooooo much", with "o's" that went on forever, brought immediate tears to my eyes.

William gave Jason and I a paper bag he decorated at preschool, with hot chocolate mix and a hand-drawn picture inside. The picture said, "Something I love about my family is:" and then he drew himself, a heart, and a Christmas tree. The simplicity and beauty of his pictures, drawn earnestly from his four year old perspective, got me crying again after I had dried my tears from opening Ava's gifts.

Our kids are no longer just little kids. They are people in their own right, with specific personalities, quirks, skills and rough edges. They have so much love and sweetness inside of them, as I saw clearly on Christmas morning, but it's available every day if I am looking for it. They are bursting with creativity and ideas, and all they need is some encouragement and care from us to make them bloom and grow.

In the baby and toddler years, as parents you do your best to keep your head above water, keeping the kids fed and dressed and bathed and cuddled. It is now, in this period of their childhood, that I can see the benefits of what we have put into them to this point. Yesterday we took them to a matinee movie and dinner for a new boxing day tradition that Ava suggested we start, and we had so much fun together. Listening to them both laugh at the antics of Yogi Bear, getting more of the jokes than ever before, warmed my heart, and filled me with pride at who my kids are becoming.

I have particular cause to celebrate William this Christmas. After the appointment with the psychologist in August, everything has changed between us, and the air is fresh and clean. We can both breathe freely, and I can see him more like he really is, instead of the faulty way I perceived him before. Brick by brick, I have been dismantling the wall I built between us since he was born, and I love how our relationship has grown and changed in the last four months. It has been one of the best transformations of my life, and I love that I have this year with him before he goes to Kindergarten in order to solidify our new and improved dynamic as mother and son.

Today we head to Canmore for a few days to spend time with Jason's parents. I'm so glad I have one more week to relax and sleep in and enjoy lazy mornings. I am slowly feeling my energy and creativity returning, and I think I'll be ready to hit the ground running in the new year. But I'm not ready yet, and I'm okay with that, because now is still the time to unwind and let all of these personal changes settle in and take hold.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Learning to Ask

This Christmas was the best one I've ever experienced with my kids, and I don't think it's because of their ages, or my virtually non-existent stress level, or any other reason except for this one: I am different now. When last Christmas was over, I constructed an idea of what I wanted for this holiday season, and I worked toward asking my family for what I desired.

Getting from the idea to the reality was not without its detours, roadblocks and pitfalls. It was never at any point easy to request something different from what other people wanted. But it was worth it, in every way and for every reason. One of the lines that moved me deeply in the new film How Do You Know was the idea that we should find out what it is we want, and learn to ask for it.

Often I know what I want, but I'm too timid to rock the boat and ask for it. Sometimes I'm afraid of the possible consequences and that is enough to stop me. This time I really knew how I wanted this Christmas to go, for myself and for Jason and the kids, and I changed enough over the course of the last six months to push aside my reservations and fears and replace them with the confidence to go after what I pictured in my head.

When we put the kids to bed last night and took a few moments to reflect on our Christmas, I was overcome with emotion. I had no idea it could be so relaxed and fun and simple. Any dream which becomes a reality that matches the beauty of your original idea provides intense inspiration. I have always loved Christmas, but I didn't love my desire to try to please everyone with my decisions and actions. It's a losing proposition, and I wish I understood that before this year. Sometimes the very act of finding out what we want, and learning to ask for it, is so rewarding that we can hardly comprehend that we didn't always do things this way.

I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for the new person I have become. I still have some sanding to do on my rough edges, and I worry that my new boundaries will slide into self-centred narcissism where I don't bend to accommodate others any more, but I think I have enough good friends who will be kind enough to tell me when I veer too far off course.

Learning to ask for what I want and need in order to pursue my dreams for myself and my immediate family has been like changing from black and white to technicolour as I walk through life. I've flipped a switch somewhere in my soul, and illuminated everything with joy and beauty, instead of trudging along taking care of what I thought other people needed, with no care taken for myself. Now that I am here, I couldn't possibly go back to where I was. This is what personal growth and a little bit of progress feels like, and it is unbelievably satisfying, and worth any price I have had to pay.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day

Today is a day to celebrate all that we have been given. It's a time for peace on earth and goodwill to all people. Sometimes it's easy to feel warm and fuzzy toward others, and sometimes it's as challenging as living without gravity to ground us. I am looking at my differences with others as a chance to practice being kind in the midst of disagreeing with people. Many times this year I have messed up in these inter-personal conflicts, but there have been moments where I knew I was actually getting it close to right, and then it felt like I was flying.

The world is made up of people with different opinions, outlooks, backgrounds and coping skills. The possibility of rubbing each other the wrong way is always present when more than one person is in the same room. We can love each other very much and still be hurtful, either intentionally or unintentionally. Forgiveness and grace exist to help us stay married, and remain in close contact with our closest family members and friends.

On this day, where families are gathered together and emotions tend to run hot, it helps to remember that we are all doing the best we can to get along. I have learned over the course of this year that I must draw the line at certain points to protect myself from being repeatedly hurt, but I've also lowered my expectations significantly in order to hang on to some relationships and make them work the best I can.

I have a small wooden sign by my sink which says, "Live simply. Give more. Expect less." When I reflect back on this year, I see that I have put these six words into practice, and they have liberated me in a way that nothing else has even come close to doing. I have discovered who I am in the process of giving of myself, and in expecting less from people, I have found the key to making relationships run smoother.

This is not to say that I have it all figured out. There are many dark moments of soul searching and I'm definitely not satisfied with the outcome of many of the conflicts I've been through this year. But I'm moving in a specific direction with the kind of personal growth I've been working through, and having a goal to live simply, give more and expect less has guided me when I would've otherwise been hopelessly lost.

This Christmas, I wish all of you peace and joy, with more love than you know how to handle. I pray it wells up in your spirit like a fountain, and spills out to those around you. We are the change we would like to see in the world. Ideas and words can lead to actions which transform us, and that change spreads slowly to other people. We are each candles in a dark room, and as our light shines, we provide hope and warmth to someone who may need that desperately.

Merry Christmas. Thank you for reading and for being on this life journey with me. You have given me a big gift today, and I am deeply grateful for each and every one of you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Today is my favourite day of the year. As a child, Christmas Eve was the best day of the holidays for me, because I always felt disappointed on Christmas Day when the presents were opened and it was all done for another year. Christmas Eve was the culmination of the magic, the peak of anticipation for what was still ahead, and I've always been a sucker for the dark of the night contrasted with the glow of the tree and the other twinkling lights.

I love to see the excitement of Christmas in my kids' eyes now. I can see that they are reflecting back a portion of my dreamy anticipation, and that knowledge makes me feel warm and tingly all over my body. I am keenly aware that the memories they are forming now will be the foundation upon which they will build all of their future Christmas experiences.

I want them to start out with the sturdiest memories I can possibly provide for them. They won't remember everything we did, but I want them to remember how they felt at this time of year. If I'm stressed and irritated, that feeling will attach itself to their future memories, and the same is true if I'm relaxed and as excited as they are. I try to get all of the work of Christmas done before December 1st, as much as possible, so that I'm not complaining about baking, wrapping, shopping, decorating, card mailing or any of the other things that consume our time as women in December.

Some of my childhood memories of Christmas center around the stress of the workload, and I would rather not do the work if it seems like drudgery and lowers my Christmas spirit. Starting earlier is the best cure I know for not being stressed in the third week of December. It works for me because I am a hyper-organized control freak (not a very good quality in general, but it does help me out at this busy time of year) and I recognize that we are all different and can make Christmas work in many different ways. I just want to be aware of what my kids will take away from the mood in our house over the holidays. I would prefer that they recall laughter instead of anger, playing games instead of traipsing around shopping malls, and a sense of fun rather than duty.

This year I fought hard for the opportunity to give my kids the kind of Christmas I have long dreamed of having as a family of four. It's always a struggle to try to balance your extended family's happiness, and this year I staked out exactly what I wanted for my immediate family. That might be why I'm so thrilled about everything this December, and more relaxed and peaceful than I've ever been before.

I have traveled further within myself over the last few months, covering ground I didn't know existed, and becoming lost and afraid many times when I couldn't find any signposts to lead me safely home. But eventually I got here, where I carved out this space of love and joy for me, my husband and my two precious children. This Christmas Eve, I wish everyone the magic of childhood, regardless of your age, and the joy of peace and acceptance deep within yourself, and hope for a safe and bright tomorrow.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

This Gift

This is probably the best week of my life to date. That may sound like I'm overstating it a little, since Jason and I went to Maui three years ago on a lavish, all-expenses paid work reward for him, and I've had some pretty memorable trips and experiences so far in life, but this week at home is different because I have changed. I have learned how to relax in the most genuine and true way, and as I couldn't relax properly before, those other experiences didn't go as deep or mean as much to me as this week has.

I am like a person re-born. The tree is budding, bursting with new life and energy, and it's all because I learned to stop racing around and do absolutely nothing. I've been through the panic that I'm not producing, or succeeding, or making money. I've walked through the fear that I will always be this lazy and that my creative impulses will go underground during this forced break.

I discovered yesterday that those worries are ludicrous. I needed to experience this in order to settle down within myself; to discover the value that has always been there but was dormant and unappreciated, pushed to the basement of my soul. Something broken in me has been repaired over these hard few months of chaos and strife. I can still touch the stitches, and feel the discomfort, so I know how fresh and recent these changes are, but I recognize now that I have been given the biggest gift of my life so far, and I'm beyond grateful.

I have seen myself in a mirror, and realized that I didn't like the frantic nature of the person I was becoming. I was touching my dreams to write and publish, but the satisfaction and joy was missing, and I had to search it out and find it. I didn't know that I would have to walk through intense loneliness, anxiety and personal conflicts in order to get there, but I wouldn't change a thing about the path I walked because it led me here, to this week before Christmas, when I opened this gift of stillness and peace.

All of a sudden I have ideas coming so fast into my mind that I can barely record them on paper. The quiet period has produced this fertile time, and I am enjoying it so much more. Life is too short to stress about every little thing, and try to make your dreams come true while not enjoying what you are doing. I've slid the missing puzzle piece into place where I am assigning a value to having fun, and recognizing that I am entitled to some leisure, and I know that this renewed sense of value within myself is the best gift I have ever received.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Why is it that our emotions give us no warning when they are about to take us on a wild roller coaster ride? Even when we know we are acting crazy, we often can't stop ourselves. People approach the same situation from radically differing viewpoints, and separate sets of emotions and perspectives, and when you arrive at that moment of clashing with someone else you realize how far apart all of us humans can be sometimes.

I long for connection with people, particularly those who are close to me. But I am thinking narcissistically of my own needs and desires in any given setting, and I have to assume that the other person is thinking of theirs. This creates a conflict where one doesn't need to exist, but you don't have much time to prepare when the misunderstanding begins to occur.

A family sits down for a peaceful dinner and the whole event can derail with the smallest comment, look or gesture, and leave hurt feelings and anger in its wake. I abhor how fragile our communication can be as people who love each other and try to be kind to one another, but the cold, hard truth is that we let each other down in a million ways, and we have to be open to that possibility.

We have to ask for what we want. No one can read minds, and shouldn't be expected to. It's not easy for most women to ask specifically for what we need, but we are worth the request, and it helps our men to know what we are looking for when they are not picking up on our cues. I understand this fully, but sometimes forget it when I most need to vocalize what I am looking for.

I wish I could predict my emotional swings. It is one of the biggest frustrations of my life to be held prisoner to my vacillating feelings. I am learning that I must deal with how I feel, or my emotions beat me up until I notice them. Feelings aren't rational and they aren't supposed to be. They are our warning system; our "get engine checked" light, and paying attention to them provides our best defense against sickness and stress.

I am a woman, and must own the emotions I have. They are not wrong. They can help me if I will listen to them and heed what they are trying to tell me. I'm learning not to panic when something sets me off, but to withdraw to a quiet place (the bathroom works well for those of us with small children). If I'm alone, I can center myself enough to hear that still, small voice, and trust it to walk me through to what is really bothering me. If I can calmly understand what the real issue is, I am usually able to deal with it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Something Small

For my birthday, a friend gave me a lovely artsy book called Women's Words. It is filled with quotes from strong women throughout history, and I've been inspired on virtually every page. One quote by Irene Kassorla really stood out to me. She said, "Don't wait for your 'ship to come in', and feel angry and cheated when it doesn't. Get going with something small."

Before this year, I always thought in terms of huge successes. My script was going to sell for half a million dollars (that was just the first one; it would of course increase with subsequent scripts), the main characters in it would be played by A-list movie stars, my novel and memoir would be runaway best sellers and I'd have to worry about juggling TV appearances on Oprah and Ellen. Some version of these thoughts went through my head on a near daily basis until fairly recently, when I slowly began to filter them out, leaving them by the side of the road and walking away from them.

Those kinds of big dreams cause more pain than they are worth. They made me feel like a failure, even when I was actually succeeding. Small magazines wanting to publish my writing became disappointing because they weren't national or international publications. Somewhere along the line I began to quietly understand that life is filled with mile markers, and the small ones lead to the big ones, and if you don't celebrate every success as it comes then the big ones won't mean anything either.

It's been a revelation. I was under the mistaken idea that I should be aiming for the big score, when all along I should have been doing small things, which would eventually add up to accomplishing my dream. Now that I see this clearly, the weight of acute performance anxiety has been lifted, and I see that the small things help us hone and develop our talents, and ready us for the bigger things. I wouldn't have been ready for the kind of big success I was dreaming about, if I hadn't come to know myself through the desert of the waiting time.

Quietly working toward the big goals is deeply satisfying. I'm no longer wasting so much time searching for that big ship on the horizon, the one I felt entitled to ride to millions of dollars and dizzying accolades, but instead I'm actually writing. I'm getting a little better every day at describing what I see and feel and experience so it is of some use to others, and not better off in my own private journal.

Something small is the only place for anyone to start. Overnight success is a lie from the pit of hell, and we shouldn't feel entitled to it without putting in the same time and effort as everyone else. If I want to improve at what I love to do, I have to do it. Not talk about it, but actually do it. And starting small is the surest way to get going at all, because the expectations are low enough to counteract our abject fear of failure. Today is a good time to start small. To stop looking for the ship, and start practicing what it is you would love to be doing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lowering Expectations

I find expectations to be extremely tricky things. We all have them. They seem to be hardwired into us. We experience expectations in varying degrees, based on the relationship we have with each person, and what we believe we are entitled to. Movies, fiction and even observing the dynamics of other people's relationships all contribute to the kinds of expectations we have on those around us.

I understand in my mind that people can only give what they can give. We are all limited by our brokenness and fear. I should give up expecting more from people who simply aren't able to give it. I should take what they are willing to give, and make up the shortfall in other, healthier relationships.

It's easy to grasp this in our minds, but in our hearts and emotions, where we bleed and ache, it becomes much harder. We feel the hurt keenly, and don't want to volunteer for more of it, but where we intersect with those who let us down we must find ways to accept what they can give, and not hope to get water from a stone.

I have no idea how to do this. I hate lowering my expectations to the basement level so that I won't be disappointed, because I feel like it lets the other person off scot-free. Part of these feelings may be a sense of revenge, and I don't want to live like that. Life is too short, with the possibility of too many wonderful things, to hold on to that kind of anger and resentment. I would rather forgive, but sometimes it's easier said than done.

I think we have to forgive on a daily basis. We don't do it once and find that the hurt goes away. We have to make the choice again and again, to forgive where our needs are not being met, and to turn to another source for the approval and love we are looking for. It also helps to remember where I have hurt others and let them down, as that happens often. We are all limited by our own pain and suffering, and can't give what we don't have to offer.

Around the holidays, emotions tend to run high. We all expect more than we might ever receive, and finding ways to dial it down, and exert control over areas that are within our grasp might be a solution to this problem. I cannot worry about what is not under my direct control, and instead of stewing about what I'm not receiving from people, I can create a plan to make up the shortfall in other relationships, and remember that God loves perfectly in a way that no human can replicate.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Find Out What You Want

We went on a date yesterday afternoon, my favourite time to hire a babysitter because when we return home the kids have already been fed dinner. After spending an hour or so with them, we get them into bed and still have the whole evening to ourselves. We took my laptop to Future Shop for yet another warranty repair, then enjoyed a relaxing lunch at Joey Tomatoes, shopped for a bit at Chapters (with an eggnog latte, of course, as Starbucks is right there) and saw a matinee of How Do You Know, the new James L. Brooks comedy.

I generally avoid movies with an approval rating of less than 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the fabulous website which takes a sample of all film reviews and creates a rating of "fresh" or "rotten". When I am going to pay $25 for two admissions to a movie, I would prefer it was not a waste of time and money. We booked our babysitter weeks ago for this date because I wanted to see this movie, as I love James L. Brooks' wacky sense of humour and philosophical musings. His characters are real and true and approachably down-to-earth, and I usually come away from one of his movies with something new to consider.

How Do You Know had a 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That wasn't a great sign. But we settled into the theatre with our popcorn, pop and some friends who were able to join us, and I hoped for the best. It took me the first thirty minutes or so to settle into the rhythm of the characters and the story, but I loved the entire cast, particularly Paul Rudd, and when it began to take off for me I was thoroughly captured and found that familiar magic of being at the cinema.

At one point, Reese Witherspoon's character goes to a therapist. She panics at the door and decides to leave, but asks him what overall advice he would give to someone struggling with a general problem. He said, "Find out what you want, and learn how to ask for it." This line struck me as profoundly true, and I have recognized it in my own life this past year.

Finding out what I want has become clearer to me in the past two years, with writing leading the way but I have discovered that I also want better boundaries, increased positivity in my outlook and relationships, and a more even footing within our families. Learning how to ask for it has been the tricky part, but I'm thrilled to see that I am making progress. It's slow, but progress in a direction you want to go, at whatever the pace, is preferable to stagnation or sliding backwards.

There is something amazingly powerful about standing up for yourself and feeling that you deserve what you are seeking. In the last few months I'm learning patience in an entirely new way. It's not the worst thing to wait for what I really want. It will be sweeter when I get it. But I know that understanding who I am and what I won't settle for has been a deeply profound process. When you gain some ground in this way in your life, there is no turning back, not for any reason or for anyone who may pressure you to return to where you once were.

I am moving forward. Snail's pace or hare's pace is irrelevant; forward motion is the thing that counts. Getting a little traction within myself has provided the necessary confidence and freedom to continue moving along this road of personal growth. The rewards I'm finding are at many points on this journey and not simply at the destination. I am finding out what I want, and learning to ask for it, and at the moment I can't think of anything more worthwhile I could be doing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I'm Worth It

It feels strange to even type those words. It's not something most women are good at stating, to themselves or to the world. I had coffee with a friend yesterday and we discussed how important it is to affirm our own value in our homes and in the world. We have the same value as our husbands and our children and our friends and extended family members. We just sometimes forget we do.

Moms are hardwired to give to their kids. We all know some who appear to be wired differently and take care of their own needs ahead of their children's, but by and large I see most of my friends giving more to their family and taking less for themselves. In many ways, the world runs on this principle, and everything might fall apart if it weren't set up this way.

But there is a subtle place where women begin to believe less of themselves, particularly in the early days of motherhood when we are consumed by the same repetitive tasks of diapers, bottles, naps, temper tantrums and so on. Our husbands come home with stories of exciting developments, lunches and promotions at work, and we begin to shrink into their shadow. How many times can we describe at dinner time what we did that day with our children, since each day tends to blend into the next?

Last year I poked my head out of my rabbit hole, and realized that there was a big world out there, with people in it, living life and carrying on while I was focused on my babies and toddlers. When William was three and Ava was in Grade One, it suddenly became a little easier, and I had space to look at my own worth and value within my family.

I had to rebuild that sense of value, brick by brick, until it resembled something with a little substance. I love that I'm not the same person as I was before I had children. I am forever changed, much less self centred and more caring and kind, and I wouldn't trade those qualities for anything. But I have always been valuable, and worth the same extras as anyone else.

It's a slow process, but worth it in the end, to affirm ourselves as mothers, wives, and women. Today we have massages booked in the morning, and then babysitters coming for the afternoon while we go on a lunch and movie date. Tomorrow I'm using a gift certificate I requested for my birthday to a spa where I'll have a variety of pampering treatments. I plan to enjoy every moment of these activities, and remind myself that I'm worth the time and the cost, and come back to my kids with a light heart and a refreshed spirit.

Friday, December 17, 2010

All is Well

My mom and I went to the Michael W. Smith Christmas concert with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra last night, and I took Ava as an early Christmas gift for her. I grew up listening to Michael W. Smith's music, along with Amy Grant and other Christian artists, and I think I have every one of his 22 albums. When I started listening to him, I was a teenager, and he was a little younger than I am now. It seems like we blink, and suddenly twenty years has evaporated.

Music carries a raw power inside of it. I was thoroughly inspired by the act of creating something from nothing, which is of course the form all creative pursuits take. The musicians sat on the stage last night, instruments on their laps, and the enormous auditorium was silent. Then they raised violins to their shoulders, flutes to their lips and hands hovered over piano keys, and suddenly from the silence there was magic in the air.

Music is meant to stir us emotionally, to create a specific mood and move us from our cynicism into a joy that we didn't know was within us. It elevates us from ourselves into something greater than we are. It felt like a mirror to my soul, and what I saw there said, "All is well." After a turbulent period of time, it was like a breeze blowing gently after a summer storm, pushing away the clouds and the rain, and leaving peace and joy in its wake.

Singing Christmas carols with thousands of other people brought me to tears. Life is filled with simple beauties if we will open our eyes and hearts to them. Last night I opened my metaphorical hands and felt as if I received this gift of stillness and peace. It was like eating a sumptuous banquet, but instead of nourishing my body, it fed my soul, and that kind of sustenance lasts much longer than food.

I am grateful to Michael W. Smith and the CPO for the experience I had last night. I've been looking for peace and rest in this Christmas season, and finding it has been one of the greatest gifts of my life so far. Last night, everyone in the room experienced it: the simple, soaring joys of bagpipes, snare drums, and a host of instruments working together to create something meaningful which stirs the soul. I will never forget it, and I hope Ava keeps it with her forever as well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Resolving Conflict Well

Recently I had a conflict with someone, and when we sat down to talk it out and come to a place of resolution, I was amazed at how well the conflict resolution process can go when both people are committed to it. I hate having tension hang in the air in my relationships, but sometimes I make a move to discuss the issue and the other person isn't ready or interested in talking about it.

When that happens, the conflict stays festering between you, and every other interaction becomes built on that foundation. I like the air clean, but not everyone does, and I am slowly learning to respect that. But when both people are willing to talk it through, identifying where the misunderstandings and poor communication occurred, the problems can be fixed, and the relationship can go on from there on solid footing.

I am learning not to make peace at all costs any more. I prefer peace to hostility, but I spent a lot of time as a child and young adult traveling the bulk of the distance to meet the other person, and taking on more than my fair share of the blame in order to restore the relationship. Now I'm practicing apologizing for my part, and waiting for the other person to take responsibility for theirs. It doesn't always work out the way I'd like, but when it is successful, it's a beautiful picture of how a healthy relationship can function.

It's not easy to know how to handle different conflicts, because some people will want to resolve it peacefully and with mutually beneficial results, and others will prefer to haul out their large broom and sweep it under their gigantic carpet. I think we have to manage each situation as it arises, doing our best to say sorry and forgive, and hope that the other person will meet us partway. When they don't, we have choices to make about how we handle our side.

I used to run in and take the lion's share of the blame, just to melt the ice and get the other person speaking to me again. I don't see that as a healthy way to manage conflict anymore, and the process of changing this about myself has been painful and difficult, but I think down the road I will see rewards from this change. I know that it's deeply satisfying to resolve conflict well, but I also know that I can't control other people's responses to relationship stress. I am only responsible for myself in a conflict; the other person is on their own.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I don't even recognize myself this month. I don't think I've ever been this relaxed. Ever. I'm looking at the world through completely different eyes these days and I like what I see. I don't feel frantic and worried and afraid that I've missed the boat I was supposed to be sailing on.

Life is about making choices and living with those decisions. Sometimes we make the wrong ones and have to live with those consequences. Other times we change our ways and end up with better, healthier outcomes. That's the place I'm in right now. I've overhauled certain aspects of my personality, the parts that were driving me with a whip and torrents of abuse when I tried to slow down and stopped producing big results.

I've slowly dismantled that taskmaster. I hated her, but felt I had to please her or I wasn't acceptable to anyone. In standing up for myself and my nuclear family this year, I found a way to silence her demands and recognize which parts of me were broken and damaged and needed to be repaired.

Identifying what isn't working is an agonizing procedure. We feel useless and panic that nothing at all is going right in our lives. But then we get past that, and on the other side of the rough and rocky path we discover a babbling brook, peaceful and serene, and sunshine illuminating fresh blue sky.

We are not bound by our childhood patterns in adulthood. There is room to change and improve on the skills we developed in order to survive in our families. There are better ways of being, but we must be brave enough to face the terrifying nature of change. The process of facing what doesn't work is deeply disconcerting because it challenges everything we think we know, but in facing it and not running away, we find out there is more to know about ourselves and about the world.

I really didn't understand before this year that my value is in who I am, not in what I do. I couldn't properly relax before this because of the guilt and the fear that was dictating my every decision and action. Now I see that giving to my husband, my kids, my family members and my friends is not time wasted because I'm not producing something measurable and more valuable, but rather time invested. I'm worth the time, and so are the people in my life.

Puttering in my house is good for my soul. Crossing items from my to-do list in a reasonable fashion gives me a fuzzy sense of well-being, and I'm not competing with myself anymore to do a record number of things in a 24 hour period. I'm absorbing the experience of being alive in a completely new way, and reading for the joy of it, and watching movies and feeling no guilt at all.

I'm not writing like I was months ago, but I understand now that I have lots of time for that. The work I'm doing on myself in this season is much more important, and it will inform what I have to say later on. I've reconnected with myself, and therefore with my husband and my kids in a way that I wasn't able to before, because the damaged part of who I am was held back from them. I still feel vulnerable, and not altogether ready to offer up this tender part of my personality, but unsure is better than brittle and unavailable, and I can only work with the parts of me that are in the light at this given moment.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Unplugged from our Instincts

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love how it has simplified communication and practical arrangements, and I hate how deeply it has infiltrated every area of our lives. We rely on it at best, and are obsessed by it at worst. I am the first to admit that I love what Facebook and e-mail bring to my life, but now that I have an iPhone, I detest that I feel like checking it all of the time when I should be talking to my kids or looking at the world through my van windows when I'm parked somewhere.

I don't want to be a slave to the very things that exist to make my life easier. I have to remind myself that I am in control of how many times I check e-mail and Facebook. It's not my laptop or my iPhone's fault. It's mine. I must choose to unplug, and to wait, and to engage with people instead of electronics.

One of my students in the last writing class talked about taking her children to a remote cabin for the entire summer, where they have no internet or television, and they find pure joy in playing with rocks and sticks outside at the water's edge. She talked about how hard it is for them all to withdraw from technology, but how rewarding they find their time away, and how hard it is to leave it behind and re-enter our fast paced and stressful society. She used the phrase, "unplugged from our instincts" to describe our current culture, and those words have been rattling around in my head for weeks now.

I don't want to unplug from my instincts. I want to take what is good and convenient about all of the technology we have available to us, and leave what is lethal and imprisoning. I want to take back the control of the devices in my possession, and plug my own instincts back in. I have a choice to check my iPhone and laptop obsessively, or to set aside times to respond to them and other times to ignore them.

I have no earthly idea what the balance should be or how to uphold it, but I'm going to make it a higher priority in the coming days and weeks. If I face this struggle as a thirty-eight year old, how much worse is it going to be for my children, who will never know anything other than this plugged-in electronic world? I must show them that there is a balance to be found and upheld, even if it flies in the face of the culture around them.

There are hard choices to be made, but if I don't live this example out for them, where will they turn in order to find a working example to follow? Technology is here to stay, and will continue to move at the speed of light, and change so quickly it becomes impossible to keep up with it. I recognize that as a fact. But I can create boundaries to fence it in and not let it overrun my human relationships, which are a million times more important than a beeping device. I want to keep my instincts sharp, and not trade who I am and what I value for the ability to be reached 24/7.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What We Have

Last night I enjoyed sitting by my living room Christmas tree, taking a few moments to pause and be grateful. It didn't take long for the tears to come, and I recognized how much I have in this life, how deep my blessings run, and how much better it is to focus on what I have instead of what I don't have.

For most of my life I have been chasing down contentment, and unable to properly access it. At some point during this difficult summer and fall, I have settled into a new pattern of being grateful for what I have been given and what I've achieved, without feeling like it doesn't measure up to what I actually wanted.

This kind of settled feeling offers independence from myself in a completely new way. The desperate panic to achieve status has abated, and left a quiet satisfaction in its place. I love this feeling of recognizing how far I've come instead of measuring the distance I have yet to travel.

All of life is made up of our present, our past and our future. How we relate to it determines our daily mood and experience. We have to come to terms with where we've been, where we are, and where we are going. Our possessions fall into this category too. There is always more to buy, and we own more now than we did years ago, and we must exist inside of that gap.

Slowly simplifying what I own has freed me up to pursue other avenues in life. It has given me more energy to write, to give to my kids and my friends, and the permission to relax and have more fun. It has cut down on my competitive urge to own more than the next person, and helped me understand that owning more means being owned, and I would rather choose freedom over slavery.

Last night, in front of my tree, I thought about how healthy we are, and that we have each other, and friends, and lots of joy and laughter. I can see things clearer now than I could six months ago, and even though it was hell to get from there to here, I have changed, and will never go back to how I used to experience the world. I want to go forward from here, and I plan to use gratitude and love as my flashlight, instead of negativity and competition.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Traditions

When our kids were very small, we began various traditions around the holidays. We didn't think much about them for the first few years, as they were still forming, and Ava was too small to even be aware of what we were doing. When we moved to Alberta from BC four years ago, we began a few new traditions, and now that those are cemented in our family life, we are beginning to see the fruits of what annual traditions give to us.

Our kids look forward to these things all year long. We talk about them for weeks before we do them, and that seems to make the events themselves even more special. It's fun to watch their faces light up, and Jason and I have more fun because of the anticipation we have been building as a family. I know I have a reputation for over-scheduling everything I do, but there is a time for spontaneity and also for planning, and when an event has been on the calendar for awhile the excitement can really build.

I've talked to some people who prefer not to build up their kids' hopes in case the event falls flat, but I haven't found that to be the case. Anything can go sideways at any time, but the value I find in annual traditions is that you always know roughly what to expect from what you are doing, and slight variations actually make for more specific memories.

For the four years we have lived here, we have gone out to a specific restaurant for dinner and then to the Festival of Lights, an outdoor light show with a train, hot chocolate, kid's crafts, music, fires in barrels and other winter delights. We have always gone around my birthday, and hoped to pick an evening that wasn't frigidly cold (generally we have bad luck here and it's bitterly cold, but that's now part of the tradition).

This was the first year that both kids really got into the experience, talking excitedly about how this light show compared to other years, and asking all day what time we were going to the restaurant. I love how anchored these traditions are going to be in my kids' memories, because we have been doing them for as long as they have been alive, and plan to continue doing them. These things become cumulative over childhood, and they are memories that Jason and I will also treasure when the kids are grown and have moved away from home.

Building our family memories is no small job. These early years are the ones upon which we build our foundation for what is to come, and it's fun to put another building block in place when we have a day like we did yesterday. Giving to each other and valuing our family above our own needs or desires is a useful exercise. It feeds something in each one of us, and draws us closer together.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

See What I Can See

Michael W. Smith has a new album called Wonder, and on it is a song called Rise, and one of the lyrics says, "Come see what I can see." This entire album has lifted my spirits and encouraged my soul in the sweetest and gentlest of ways, but this song in particular moves me every time I hear it.

It's about taking risks, and listening to the still, small voice of God, and knowing who we are enough to move forward in this life. I need to remember that I'm not alone, and that relying on God is not a sign of weakness, but instead a sign of strength. Knowing our own human limits and frailties is a helpful way of existing in this world. I'm less afraid when I recognize that I'm not the be-all and the end-all. Life is bigger than I am, and I'm grateful for that fact.

I am limited in what I can see and understand. Every day I'm open to learning new things, about myself and about the way the world functions, but there is still so much more to know. I see and experience the world according to who I am (our local library just posted this incredible quote by Anais Nin on Facebook, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are") not according to how they really are.

We are all defined and bound by our past, our personalities, our individual fears and our varying levels of dysfunction. I can't fix what I don't understand is broken, and I'm learning that my own self-awareness is critical to my development as a person. I'm deeply encouraged by forward movement, in my own life and in the lives of others. Talk is cheap and meaningless, but action creates change. I'd rather not hear about all that you are going to do, but I'd love to watch you do it, and be inspired by that forward motion.

I used to hide behind my words, spinning tall tales in order to impress people. I see now that it doesn't work. You can only blow smoke for so long before you are busted on it. I've backpedaled on the talking and that gives me more energy and motivation for the doing. The results are in the action, not the intention.

Dreams are a powerful motivator for our eventual action, but I'm learning to keep my dreams a little closer to my chest. Results are hard to argue with, and I want to produce more results instead of just expressing my desire for certain things to happen. It has taken me a long time to reach this realization, and the view from this vantage point takes my breath away.

I want to continue to see things differently. To recognize that I perceive the world according to my own biases and beliefs, and not as gospel truth. Everyone else is doing exactly the same thing. We all see what we want to see, but understanding that my way is not right where other people are wrong is extremely beneficial in the day-to-day experience of co-existing with others in this life. Many of our disagreements can fall by the wayside when this truth is embraced and accepted.

We all want to be right, but it's so hard to be right when we don't have all of the facts. We see through a small pane of glass that is dirty and cracked, and we never have the complete picture. Our section is always clear to us, but other people see things differently, and that is just fine. It doesn't take away from me to have someone else experience ideas and views in a radically different way. We all possess varying perspectives, but I want to rise above all of it, and see with new eyes what that still, small voice is trying to show me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blooming Children

Every now and again it helps to step back and look at the bigger picture. I did that last night, reading Christmas stories to William which I have pretty much memorized, and my mind began to wander. I thought about the kind of memories my kids are going to carry with them from these precious first handful of years, and suddenly I could hardly read The Grinch without choking up. I hope that the stories and the songs and prayers all add up to be a routine that might not mean much on any given night, but piled up over months and years becomes a cumulative memory of safety, love and security to keep them warm in the cold times ahead.

No one is perfect as a parent. We all love our kids, and want the best for them, but so many of our own hang-ups and insecurities get in the way of our highest intentions. I wish I had been able to clear the air between William and I earlier than I did, but we can't fix what is behind us, only what is directly in front of our faces. When we know how to do better, we can, and there is no sense in beating ourselves up for what has gone before.

I am so proud of my kids. I think they are further ahead in their confidence levels at the age of seven and four than I was in my late twenties. They are sure of themselves in a way I only began to figure out in my mid-thirties, and I love that they are already standing on a platform which I had to construct brick by brick for myself. I know for a fact that they will have other things to fight for and work into, but in the areas of identity and self confidence, they are light years ahead of where I was as a child.

I don't think we can ever encourage our children too much. I often worried that Ava's self image was too high as a two and three year old, for it was embarrassing to me when she would whirl around and say, "Look at how pretty I am! I'm so smart! Look at me dance!" People told me to keep pumping up her self esteem, that she would need it when she got older and her peers were tough on her, but somewhere deep inside I panicked that we weren't giving her a realistic view of herself; that we might actually be setting her up for failure.

I see now that my own insecurities and worries were causing my hesitation. Everyone else was right. You can't possibly damage your child by telling them how genuinely wonderful, cute, smart and fabulous they are. I missed a little of this with William when he was very small, focusing far too much on his sensitive nature and not enough on his wonderful qualities, but I'm making up for lost time now. Praise to a child is like a dry plant in a dark room that suddenly receives sunlight and water. Children bloom, in much the same way as plants, and we make them flower with our gushing encouragement and support.

It doesn't cost me anything to praise my children and my friends, but so often I hold back because of what is damaged in my own heart. I fear that building them up will somehow tear me down. It's not true. Stronger and healthier children and friends make for a better world all around us, and we can be part of making that happen. Try it today and see the effects for yourself.

Build up instead of tearing down, and you'll see what a difference it makes. Positivity breeds more of the same, and negativity works exactly the same way. Turning a complaint into a compliment is not a difficult thing to do, and over time, the rewards will make themselves obvious when that drooping plant begins to grow and flower for the whole world to see.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Be Bold with your Vision

When Alice Walker, author of The Colour Purple, was asked what advice she would most like to offer writers today, this was her answer: "The most healthy thing is to be true to your own self, but also, that you have a right to express what you see and what you feel and what you think. To be bold. To be as bold with your vision as you can possibly be. Our salvation, to the extent that we have one, will come out of people realizing the crisis of our species and of the planet and offering their deepest dream of what’s possible."

I was thoroughly inspired by those words. At some points along this writing journey, I've felt bolder and stronger than others, but it comes down to working through my own anxieties so that I can afford to be bold with what I am trying to say. I consider it my job to think through my ideas and communicate them in the best way that I can, so that other people can benefit from what I'm learning and experiencing.

Identification is an important part of the human experience. We are all looking for aspects of ourselves in everything we read, watch, say and do. We want to recognize what we are going through in other people, and in that common identification find the permission to grow and change; to become stronger and better as people.

Sometimes this kind of writing feels like a huge responsibility. It's always tempting to crawl back under my shell and be anonymous again, but I know how much I've received from putting these thoughts out into the world, and having the freedom to explore ideologies and emotions through all of the forms of writing I'm doing. It's worth it to be bold, even if it gets me in trouble once in awhile.

Alice Walker is 66 years old, and has written everything from Pulitzer Prize winning novels to essays to memoirs to children's books. Reading that interview with her in the October 2010 issue of Writer's Digest magazine was inspiring because it felt like a road map for where I'm hoping to go. If I can give an interview like that when I'm 66, looking back on what I've learned and contributed, it will be a deeply satisfying feeling.

All of us have a specific purpose in this life, and the advice to "be bold with our vision" applies to everyone. What is the point of being half-hearted in the way we live? We only get one shot at life here on this earth, at this point in history, and with these loved ones all around us. I want to make it count. To give away more than I have before, and to know myself better with each passing day, and to always be true to who I am and what I am trying to contribute to the world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Messy Side of Life

Today I turn 38 years old. I love how age is all in your perspective, because 38 seems quite young to me now, but when I was in my twenties I thought it sounded thoroughly middle aged. When you get there, you can't believe how fast it has come, and even though that is a cliche that we've all heard a million times, it doesn't stop it from being true.

It feels damn good to be in such a happy place at this advanced age. I finally feel settled, and understand what it is I'm supposed to be doing with my unique set of gifts and talents. Two years ago at this time I was putting my finger on the missing puzzle piece of my day-to-day existence: writing. Everything was pretty good in my marriage and family life, but I wasn't writing, and therefore every night I went to sleep with that nagging feeling that something big was absent.

I'm beyond grateful to report that my satisfaction level is much higher because I'm writing every day, and I'm growing into my confidence in an entirely new way. Blogging daily and receiving immediate feedback from people has been as satisfying and encouraging as it has been humbling and challenging when some of my opinions and ideas are opposed by others. That's all part of the process and the journey of growing into who I am, and having the courage to communicate what I believe at any given time without fear of reprisal.

I talked about this briefly on the weekend with someone who expressed amazement at how personal my blog posts are. I know that I like to read writing which is thoughtful and personal and grapples with real issues which I can relate to, and that is the model I have chosen to follow in my blogging. I also want my kids to read these posts when they are older and understand a little more about me, and find some insight into what I believed to be true.

Embracing the messiest sides of life has been my favourite part of this past year. I am learning that it's okay to make mistakes, and set boundaries, and resolve conflict to the best of my ability with my family and friends. It's not perfect, but life isn't designed to be neat and clean. It's unpredictable and joyful and distressing, sometimes in the same day or even the same hour.

I'm understanding that going with the current is easier than fighting it, except where I hear that still, small voice and know the time has come to speak up. I am trusting my instincts and how good my God is instead of putting my faith in my own abilities. It's working much better for me.

I think we are all at a pivotal time in history, when our society is on the verge of imploding into itself, and hopefully before it's too late we'll discover a better set of values and priorities. I want to opt out of having the newest generation in technology and opt into more heartfelt communication in my relationships. I want to jump off the treadmill that is envy and greed for material things, and embrace simplicity in the possessions I own.

I want to show my kids that there is a peaceful way to live in our fast-paced world; that we don't have to march to the same drum as the rest of our culture. Even though I don't know all of the answers, I'm willing to ask the questions, and change my beliefs when they don't feel right, and I think my kids are going to be better citizens with this modeled in front of them.

Over this past year I've let go of many of my driving needs to be recognized in some public way for my writing. The drive to be published has been met in small arenas, and slowly I've come to find a new measure of balance to my family and work life. I've turned down the flame on needing it so desperately as some kind of validation for my existence on this earth. I understand now that I'm valuable for who I am and not for what I contribute.

Selling bigger pieces of writing and seeing those dreams come true, one by one, would be the icing on the cake, but the substance and shape of the cake is already in existence. This revelation did not come lightly to me, and had a steep price, but I'm so glad to have paid it. Now to see what the next year will bring.

Thank you for reading, and for your encouragement and comments. You will likely never know just how much your support has contributed to my dream to write.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Marshmallow Centre

I feel like walls are coming down within me that I didn't even know I had. I think they have been there since childhood, which is why they are constructed so high and so well, and why I'm so afraid to reach out my hand and touch them. I have made the common mistake of equating God with the father I had as a child, and they are not at all one in the same, but this basic assumption ties me up in the most horrendous knots from time to time.

My dad often pushed me away and let me down, with a "come close-get away" acceptance and rejection pattern, and I am slowly coming to understand that God doesn't function in the same way. I feared any kind of disconnect with my dad, and always took it to mean that I was in some way unacceptable to him, and therefore rejected. I didn't understand as a child that it was okay to make mistakes. I thought it was lethal to my relationships, and I felt connected to people as long as my behaviour was perfect.

Perfection doesn't get us very far. Eventually we fail, and I am realizing now, at the ripe old age of almost 38, that mistakes are how we learn. They don't brand us as failures, but actually open up whole new ways of being in the world, offering a beautiful chance to improve ourselves. I don't deserve to be punished when I make a mistake, but I see now that I have been punishing myself for as long as I can remember. I didn't need anyone to do that for me; I was more than willing to do it to myself.

As a result of these childhood fears, rejection tends to hit me with the force of a Mack truck. It makes me feel helpless and vulnerable, alone and twisting in the wind with the intense fear of a child who has been abandoned and must forge her own way. I'm slowly learning that I have the capacity to hide deep down inside of myself, performing a magician's sleight of hand out in the world to distract from what is churning far below the surface where no one can see.

Like most people, my insecurities and fears are guarded behind a locked and very thick door, and I would prefer for these qualities to remain unseen by anyone else. But sometimes my fortress is breached, and when the person can be trusted it is likely the best thing for me, because it opens up that dark and mildewy place, just a crack, but enough to let a little light in.

It hurts like hell, and it's terrifying because I'm certain that the entire house of cards will come crumbling down if a little light hits that pitch black place. I used to be that flimsy, but now there is enough substance underneath to withstand that kind of onslaught. I have a stronger foundation this time around, built with bricks and mortar, and it takes more than a puff of air to knock it over.

The hard times make the structure of my soul stronger. The pain and the fear add bricks, not to protect the inner chamber, but to stabilize me so my core can see the light once in awhile, and still be supported. The goal is to remain vulnerable, but to build a moat around my heart so the rest of me can function while this work is going on.

Pain is okay. It keeps us humble, and aware, and invested in the process. I don't want to check out emotionally, because my feelings are what keep me connected to other people, and even to myself. Fear is the enemy of growth. It wants us to keep our marshmallow centres locked away from everyone, telling us that we won't be accepted if our friends and family really knew what made us tick. But it's not true. Sometimes the best course of action is vulnerability, because that's where the new growth becomes visible.

When it hurts really badly, I'm slowly learning to pay attention. To recognize that there are huge lessons to be learned, if I will be brave enough to accept the consequences that come with walking through the process. In the middle it's hard to see what is actually happening, but that's what faith is for, and this time around, I know that something big is going on inside of me, and I want to see it through.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Friendship takes many forms in our lives. Some friends develop into intense relationships for a short season, and then move out of our lives due to geography, differences of opinion, or busy schedules. Others form slowly and continue to grow for the rest of our lives. New friends, old friends, or growing friendships - in whatever form they take, my friends add so much depth and joy to my life.

In giving of ourselves to others, we find that we are being nurtured and blessed. This happened to me yesterday with a group of friends at our holiday open house. We have been hosting these annually for the twelve years we've been married, and it's always such an interesting group of people that ends up gathering and connecting.

You can't predict these things. You never know if anyone is going to come, but then there is a knock at the door, and groups of people are in your house, mingling and meeting and visiting while eating and drinking. Throughout the years and the various cities we've lived in, we've seen new friendships form out of these parties, and it's fun to sit back and watch people connect and enjoy each other.

At our hearts, we all long to be connected and live in some form of community. That closeness with others opens us up to hurt people and be hurt, with our words and our actions, but it also provides the sweetest opportunities to feel close to another human being; to share what's in our hearts and minds and find kinship with another person. When we are thrust together with others and we take the time to talk and listen, amazing points of connection begin to appear, and inroads are made towards relationships which can go the distance in our lives.

We all need friends. People we can rely on in the good times as well as the tough ones, and when I stand back and recognize the value of those people in my life, it stirs up intense gratitude and warmth deep inside of me. I'm thankful today for how much I've been given by my friends.

I enjoyed watching my kids yesterday as well, opening the door to guests, taking coats, welcoming their friends to come and play. If hospitality is dying away in our culture, then the next generation can revive it. I want my kids to value opening their doors to their friends and neighbours, because we've seen such incredible relationship flow from placing value on these things.

Friendship is alive. It moves and changes and flows between people. Where it is allowed to flourish, it nourishes and sustains those who are sharing it. Today I am celebrating what I have been given and what I can give. My gratitude in this area knows no limits, and to those who have added so much rich beauty to my life, I thank you.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Young Again

We watched 500 Days of Summer last night, and I was struck by a keen desire to go back in time, to being young and hopeful about the future, and to experience the joys and terrors of falling in love. The movie did an excellent job of portraying the emotional upheaval which accompanies the stages of any new relationship, and I found myself swept up in the feelings of the characters.

Halfway through I began to feel that piercing nostalgia for the beginning of my relationship with Jason, when the emotions are so big that they turn your entire life upside down. That magical spark of falling in love is a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, and while I wouldn't change a thing about choosing to marry him and settling down together, there is still a part of me that pines for the "firsts" that are long gone and will never be again.

Relationship stages are interesting to me. The tumultuous romance opens the door to commitment and permanence. You can't have one without the other, but when the early days are behind you, it takes a real effort to rekindle that excitement and find those stomach-dropping butterflies again.

November was one of the hardest months on our marriage so far. Jason was away for most of the month, and not just physically, but also emotionally due to circumstances beyond our control. This created a disconnect which wasn't easy to repair, and required a renewed effort on both of our parts to cross the divide. Looking back, I can feel how good it was for both of us to put this work into our relationship as that helped to rekindle our affection for each other.

Sometimes I love the stage we are in right now, settled and comfortable with our two kids, and not as stressed about finances and sleepless nights and learning how to parent as we were in the early days. But then I watch a movie like 500 Days of Summer, and I long for the thrill of the beginning, and feel a certain sadness that there is no going back in life, only forward.

I suppose I have all of these stages to look forward to for my kids, and participating in their many firsts will bring back the joys I experienced when it was my turn. And there is always more to anticipate and work toward; as long as we are alive there are new things around every corner. It's probably best to focus on that instead of worrying about the things which have gone before, and cannot be retrieved, except in our memories.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Self Care

The topic of caring for ourselves as women came up at our mom's group this week. I listened with one ear, recognizing how hard it is to find time to actually indulge in any form of self care in these busy days with young children. But this morning, as I stayed in bed until after 11 am, I began thinking about it a little more, and realized how far I have come already in prioritizing myself higher on the scale of our family.

As my kids get a little older, I think this is becoming easier. I'm recognizing that my attitude serves an an emotional barometer for the rest of my family, and I want to give more of myself without burning out. In order to do that, I must understand my limits. I can only do so much, and I am slowly learning to say no without guilt, and protect the energy reserves I have on any given day or evening.

Setting myself free from guilt is as liberating as it is foreign. I used to wallow in guilt like a pig in mud; rolling around and covering every inch of myself in its murky filth, and I am not doing that these days. Now I am attempting to take blame for where I fail, and letting the rest go. None of us wants to hurt anyone else, but the fact of being human and imperfect means that we will hurt others, and that's what apologies and forgiveness are for.

I am an important member of my family. I serve my family willingly, but there are times for me to step back and be served. Even typing those words feels strange, because as women we are hardwired to give to others, but the fact remains that we have limits to what we can give, and if our own gas tank isn't refueled, we will run dry and end up stranded by the side of the highway.

It has taken me a very long time to understand that I need to take care of myself. That it is not selfish to recognize what I need and find a way to get it. If I am calm and centered and relaxed, I am a better person for everyone who needs me. Self care is not a luxury or a right, but something even stronger than that. It is a necessity, and going forward, I am going to continue to prioritize it higher.

I've had a dream for years that involves people stopping their lives to pamper me and care for me. It doesn't seem to happen that way. I see now that my expectations on others have been too high and not high enough for myself. I am responsible for my own care. That's liberating in and of itself, and puts the onus on me, where it actually belongs. I'm through wasting time waiting on other people to value me higher so I feel valuable. If I value myself, it won't matter so much what other people say and do, and that lesson goes for all facets of life.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Positive Attitude

A friend forwarded a blog post to me, and it was about how most of us focus on the negative, dwelling on problems in our mind to try to find solutions. The writer said that research over the last twenty years has shown that overthinking about negative aspects of our lives causes depression, sadness and cynicism. The best way to achieve peace and joy is to stop stressing over the negative, and think about the good things.

I took this idea and tried it with William yesterday, and the results were astonishing. He had been complaining about so many things, and suddenly I noticed that his manners were dropping and I was still carrying out his lofty demands. He would whine and complain, and I would get frustrated, but I wasn't making any effort to change his behaviour.

After I read that blog, I recognized that I was turning into a "throw my hands in the air" parent with William, where I didn't like his behaviour but had no idea how to change it, so I just felt frustrated all of the time. I knew something had to change, so I started focusing on the positive and not the negative with him. When he complained, I took time to help him turn it into something positive.

Simply encouraging him to think in terms of speaking with a positive tone instead of a negative one really turned my own attitude around. At first it was hard work, but then we made it into a game, asking each other, "What's the positive way to say this?" and every time he would say please and thank you, I made a big deal out of graciously helping him with his request.

Slowly, over the course of the day, his attitude genuinely changed, and so did mine. It was like a sunflower turning to the sun. We turned to each other, and felt warm and fuzzy instead of cold and prickly. It was a wonderful relationship switch, and warmed the temperature in the house significantly. Suddenly I noticed all of his good qualities again and enjoyed being with him once more.

All because of focusing on the positive instead of the negative. Ruminating on what isn't working leads to despair, but when we intentionally focus our thoughts in more positive directions, we feel energized and happier. I noticed the effects of this experiment faster in my four year old than in myself, but his improved mood affected mine, which made things better for everyone I encountered in my day.

The only way I know to access the fruits of the spirit in my regular day to day life is to keep them front and center in my mind. If I want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control to flow from me, the easiest way I know to develop them is to think positively instead of negatively. Take action in a direction instead of waiting for something to happen to me. Control my thoughts just a little bit more instead of letting my emotions control me.

It requires intentional work, every day, to keep this positive attitude rolling along. It's easy to slip into negativity, because it surrounds each one of us everywhere we go. But we can be the change we want to see in the world. First it happens inside of us, and then over a lifetime, it spreads to those around us. We all influence each other, and I would prefer for my influence to be positive instead of negative. It's just putting it into practice on a daily basis that's the difficult part.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I'm in a hard place right now. I feel like I've been here for too long, and I'm now eager to arrive at the summit of this particular mountain I've been climbing, and look back to see how far I've come. I know for a fact that I am growing and changing, but sometimes this growth reveals the underbelly of our own dysfunction which we would prefer not to examine. I am looking at what has changed, and trying to adjust to that, and seeing all of the work that still has to be done.

We can only work in baby steps. We make mistakes, and many of them, and hopefully we can graciously accept fault where it lies with us, and make amends, and rifts can be repaired. Sometimes it takes more time than I'm comfortable with. And the unfortunate truth remains that sometimes the relationship divides cannot be crossed, or the cost is too high to pay, and hard decisions have to be made.

I don't have the answers to these questions. I don't think anyone does. When you find an answer, the question is likely to change and you are suddenly right back where you started. As I get older, I am finding it marginally easier to live inside shades of grey but the word marginally covers a lot of ground. Some days it just plain sucks. Some days I don't want to change at all, and I want to go back to being certain, and drawing everything in thick black permanent lines, but I know I was only fooling myself when I thought I saw everything clearly back then.

Life is filled with uncertainties. We all carry our fears deep inside of us, and sometimes those fears crop up and push all rational thought out of the way, and direct our decisions when they shouldn't be allowed that much free rein. We are all damaged, and overcompensate in some areas to hide the fact that we are actually weak and vulnerable under our carefully constructed defenses.

I feel like a turtle without a shell. I don't want to go back to my hardened self, where I fought fire with fire instead of looking for a more peaceful solution, but I also don't want to be consistently hurt. I wish it was clearer when I should stand up for myself and when I should stay silent. There is no manual that I know of for these interpersonal struggles, and you have to react in the middle of the situation, and I know for a fact that my reaction is not always right.

I do know that I have to find my own way, and make my own mistakes, and only take my fair share of the blame. Those concepts are clear in my mind, but the situations around those ideas are so fluid that it frightens me. We all have to go into the world and do our very best to be kind and respectful, while still holding and maintaining boundaries which we feel are reasonable and serve a valuable purpose.

I would like things to get easier now. I would like this half-year of conflict and personal turbulence to draw to a close, and open up a new year like a shiny present filled with promise and hope for second chances. I would like to be more certain in myself; to come out of this pain like a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, a caterpillar no more, but finally able to soar above the ground which once held her captive.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Peace and Love

Today is December 1st, the formal start of the Christmas season. Our pastor has been focusing on the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5 for his Sunday teaching, and if these nine attributes aren't visible in our life, we are missing the point of what it means to live as a follower of Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

These qualities take a lifetime to develop and grow, with setbacks along the way, but they serve as signposts and markers for us as we walk through life. I want more of all of them. I wish I wasn't so selfish and quick to anger. I would prefer that my kids see me as gentle and kind instead of frustrated and rushed. You can't fake these attributes. They are either developing in us, or the opposite is being nurtured and is growing.

Once in awhile, I need to stop and take stock of what is happening in my character. There are ways to stand up for myself that still involve the fruits of the spirit, and I need to keep working on my own reaction to situations, as that is the only thing under my control. I don't want to waste time worrying about the things that are outside of my control, but where I interact with others I can be as kind as possible, and where I fail, I can take ownership of my mistakes and apologize for them.

I don't want to cultivate anger and distance from people. I'm looking for peace and love in the situations I'm in. There is no better time to practice this than now, during the Christmas season where these qualities are practiced more than ever by most people. Christmas is about giving and love and kindness to our fellow man.

It's much easier when it's reciprocated and much harder when it isn't. How other people react to us isn't the point. Our own character is what matters here, and that can be developed in whatever direction we want, regardless of what happens to us, as long as we are aware of it and working on it.

I believe it's easier to work toward something rather than away from something, so instead of trying not to be angry, I'm going to attempt to be peaceful. I'll work on love instead of hate, forgiveness where nursing a grudge used to be. Life is short and I don't want to waste the time I have. Today I'm going to put peace and love front and centre and try to keep all of the fruits of the spirit in my mind as I go through my day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

People Pleasing

Just when I think I am getting somewhere with my people pleasing tendencies, they pop up when I least expect them. It's like walking along on your merry way and suddenly having an ice cold bucket of water thrown in your face. My first inclination is always to satisfy what is being asked of me. And even when I'm not asked, if I perceive a need, I jump in there to try and help the best that I can.

When I type those words, it sounds like a good thing that is commendable, but the problem is that it's a short fall from helping others to having a capital "S" for Sucker carved into your forehead. I don't take kindly to being bullied, but it usually goes on for a little while before I realize what's happening and put a stop to it. The downside of trying to make everyone happy is being walked on and taken advantage of, and eventually a line appears that no one should cross, and when it is breached, change has to occur.

It's so much easier when relationships are smooth sailing. But because we are all people with individual needs and stresses, the easy times don't last very long. Conflict comes, and how we handle it says a lot about ourselves. I can't control what others say and do, to me or around me, but I can control my response. I can pause before I say yes or no, and really think about it. I can be more aware of when I feel pressured and not respond to someone else's force.

I have to deal with my own anxieties about letting people down. I can't make everyone happy at my own expense. That only works for so long, and then I burn out and become resentful. I don't want to hold grudges and be angry. The goal is to let the little things go, but change how I react going forward so that a more positive end result is achieved.

People pleasing is a two-edged sword. I want to continue to help others and be reliable, but there are times to say yes and times to say no, and the way we are asked makes a huge difference to each situation. There are limits to what we can do, and recognizing those boundaries and learning to live within them is an important puzzle piece for our mental and physical health. If that piece is not handled carefully, it tears apart the fabric of our well being and relationships, so our own limits must be respected.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Want To

This month, I've discovered something that I call "the want to". I stopped beating myself up over what I wasn't accomplishing, and made the decision to put my writing on hold for a few weeks, even though it was going well, to focus on the kids and my Christmas preparation and make leisure a higher priority. While Jason was out of town it was extremely helpful to change my frantic mindset and recognize the truth that accomplishing a reasonable amount of things in a day and then relaxing was soothing to my soul and made me a happier mother and person.

Taking a short break from writing my novel, screenplay and memoir has fueled the creative fires in a fresh way. I have ideas sparking again, and I feel a desire to create instead of an obligation to a harsh and unbending taskmaster (i.e. myself). There is a sense of "wanting to" instead of "having to". It's a subtle difference, but for creative pursuits, it can mean the difference between a well written story with no passion and one that captures imagination in others because it is alive and vibrant for the person writing it.

So much of life is like this. We all have obligations we must carry out, and we don't necessarily have the "want to" for each of them. Often we push ourselves to fulfill our commitments and we find we enjoy ourselves, but just as often the reverse is true. It's hard to find the line between doing what we have committed to and being personally satisfied, and that line is always moving.

I know that this month has opened my eyes to the value of leisure and taking better care of myself. My health and overall outlook on life is tied into how I feel, and if I don't make that a priority as I get older I will be shortchanging myself and my family. I can't allow that to happen. An unexpected byproduct of this revelation has been this re-awakening of my creative drive, and I'm grateful.

Life has so many unexpected twists and turns, but just as many surprising moments of beauty and inspiration. When we are open to finding those gifts, they come to us when we are not expecting them, and they can provide us with a new set of "want to's" for what we love to do. I'm looking forward to being more open to these gifts as I walk into my future. There are many ways to arrive at our goals, and finding that detours can be refreshing along the journey is a wonderful surprise.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tangled: Finding a New Dream

We took the kids to see Tangled yesterday, on a somewhat spur-of-the-moment plan to celebrate Jason's insane month of non-stop travel and meetings being a thing of the past. Jason's parents sent the kids movie passes for Halloween and we were waiting for a kid's movie with good reviews in order to spend the ridiculous amount of money required for a family of four to see a movie that lasts an hour and forty minutes (without the passes, we calculated it would have cost us $68 for the four of us to watch the 3D movie and share a medium popcorn and a medium pop - ridiculous is the only word that comes to mind).

The movie was released on Friday to strong reviews, so we expected big crowds, but going to the mall a month before Christmas on a Saturday afternoon wasn't the brightest idea we've ever had. Jason dropped Ava and I off in front of the theatre to get tickets, popcorn and seats, and we were all settled in munching happily twenty minutes later, and he was still circling the immense parking lot trying to find a spot. He eventually found one, on the opposite side of the mall, and ran with William on his shoulders to make it moments before the movie began.

The lights dimmed and excitement was in the air as nearly every seat was filled and you could feel a palpable energy in the room. I felt William's weight on my knee and glanced at Ava in the seat next to me, her eyes behind her black 3D glasses glued to the screen. Jason and I smiled at each other over Ava's head, and I felt a surge of gratitude for our family. It's been a hard month where we've been disconnected more than connected, but at that moment, we were all together in one place, sharing an experience that would become a good memory stitched into the fabric of our family history.

The movie began, and it didn't take long for me to feel swept up in its current. I respond to themes in movies and literature, and this Rapunzel story was about two things that are near and dear to my heart: dreams and identity. It was about following your dreams no matter what, and knowing who you really are and not hiding that from the world. I felt as though I could've written it myself with what I've learned so far in my thirty-seven years, and anytime we identify powerfully with something it creates a deep imprint on us.

There is a scene in the middle of the movie which I found astonishing. Rapunzel and Flynn are in a boat, waiting for something to happen which she has been dreaming about her entire life. Moments before the event occurs, she begins to worry that maybe it will be disappointing and not live up to her expectations. Flynn says gently, "When this is over, you'll find a new dream."

That line struck me as powerful and true, for I don't want to ever stop dreaming. There is always another dream to pursue when one is accomplished. We look forward to something, and when it happens we don't have to be disappointed, because there is going to be another event to anticipate. As a kid, I felt blue after big events like birthdays or Christmases, but as an adult, I understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to dreams. We can always aim higher. As long as our reach exceeds our grasp, we have more to hope for and work toward.