Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stalled Out

I don't think anyone likes the feeling of stalling out, spinning your wheels and feeling slightly out of your depth in what you are doing. I'm beginning to understand that it's part of the process of learning anything new. It must be endured, and you have to push through, in order to get to a better place where you feel more proficient.

There are so many things I want to do for my writing career, but every idea takes time to implement, and patience has never been my strong suit. I have no shortage of plans, but I also value spending time with my kids and my husband, and need to find ways to balance out each hour of every day so I'm not selfishly pursuing my own goals at the expense of my family and friends.

It's hard. There are no formulas, and just when you find something that seems to be working, something comes along to mess it all up and you have to start tinkering around again to find a functional solution. I know in my mind that these stages don't last forever, but my emotions are another story.

Money isn't everything. Time and energy are valuable commodities, and count for something too. The day is rapidly approaching when I won't have any kids at home during the day, and more time to work. The time to cuddle and play and enjoy William's preschool years is right now, and later when I have more time to myself, I don't want to look back and realize that I missed out on what was right in front of me to embrace.

God gives us seasons for a reason. Each one brings something challenging, and something beautiful to enjoy. Each season is radically different from the others, and so it is with life. We have time, if we will be patient enough to take the long-range view. In our frantic North American culture, we want everything now. The idea of pacing ourselves is foreign and strange, but I am trying to live within my means, and that includes my choices for how I spend my time.

I need to be less concerned with what others are doing, and build up my confidence in myself. We are all on different journeys, and move at varying speeds, and will produce unique results. My self confidence cannot be attached to what other people are doing, or I'm sunk before I even begin. Just because I see opportunities, doesn't mean I'm able to pursue them at this time. I'll stick to my plan, and look for ways to believe in myself and my abilities, and work on being happy for others at whatever stage they are at without making comparisons to what I'm doing.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Spring Break

Ava is on spring break this week, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the break from regular routine. I love that I'm learning, on a daily basis, how to offer myself permission to relax and unwind. I have luxuriated in it, like one does in the scented steam of the spa. It's a feeling which goes deep into the core of who I am, and nests there, finding a place to become part of me, and I'm discovering that it belongs there.

We have enjoyed days of doing nothing, and days of memorable activity. In the middle of the week, Jason had to go to Edmonton for work meetings, and I asked if we could come along to go to West Edmonton Mall during the day. It was one of the first times that I've done something like that with the kids on my own. Jason has always been part of these activities, and of course we like it more when he is there too, but as part of my increased confidence in myself as a person, a wife and a mother, I wanted to stretch out on my own.

It was like a dream to get up in the morning, get myself ready, be sure the kids were dressed, throw a bottle of water and a few granola bars into my purse, and leave. No diaper bags. No strollers or wagons. No equipment of any kind. Just us. Jason dropped us off at the mall, and we puttered around, with no specific agenda, doing whatever we felt like doing all day long.

I had so much fun with my kids. I had invited a few friends from the area to come join us for the day, and for various reasons no one was able to come. Although I missed the chance to catch up and visit, I recognized that if I had been with my friends, I would have talked to them and not to my kids. I'm glad it worked out the way it did. The three of us enjoyed each other's company, and when we bumped into friends from our town and spent some time in a group, it was an unexpected bonus in the middle of a really great day.

Jason joined us when he finished his meetings, and we had dinner together on Bourbon Street, bringing back a lot of memories for me as a teen and young adult, spending time with friends in the new mall. So much has changed since then, but so much of me has remained the same, and I loved connecting with myself again in that familiar setting. Everything felt similar, and yet so different, all at the same time.

That's how life is. It never stops changing, but at any given time, we can connect with who we are, and access who we used to be, and look ahead to who we are becoming. There is a glorious sense of continuity to this life, if we have the eyes to see where the dots intersect and connect. It's beautiful, and stirring, and I'm glad I got to experience that special day with my kids at this exact stage in their development.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


An unexpected byproduct of all of the personal change and conflict I've experienced this past year has been increased confidence in myself. As I learn who I really am and find ways to apply that knowledge to specific situations that I'm in, I discover that I have skills that were underutilized or outright ignored before, and they are actually valuable to me and to others. So much of how we see ourselves has to do with our own lens and filter, and when our confidence is low, we just can't see all that we really have to offer in this world.

So much of my life before this year was built on bluster and bravado. I faked my way through everything, but deep down I always knew I was a fraud, and feared anyone calling me out. I used to be afraid to drive anywhere with other people in case they criticized me, and I flat-out refused to try anything new because I could be mocked or laughed at.

It was very limiting to worry all the time about what other people might possibly do to hurt me. I tried to think ahead and plan out all eventualities, and make my decisions accordingly. That's exhausting, and actually just plain stupid, because how can I really know what anyone might think or say or do at any given moment?

Taking back control of my own life was intensely liberating. It brought my confidence up immediately because I felt powerful in a way that I hadn't ever experienced before. Writers ask me all the time how to stop worrying about what other people think of their writing. The only answer I know is, "Baby steps." You don't one day wake up and say, "I don't care at all if this offends someone and I'm going to say it regardless of the outcome." But it can happen slowly. I'm living proof of that.

Offending people is always hard. It's not a good feeling. But it's much, much worse to hold back as a writer or pretend to agree with someone when you don't. I've given myself permission to be wrong, and to change my opinions as I feel I need to, but when I feel passionate about something, I communicate it now, even if I know my ideas won't be popular with some people.

I've felt the sting and been hurt by people who disagree with me, but they are allowed to disagree, in the same way that I am allowed to express my own opinion without fear of reprisal. Where the reprisal has been too hard to bear, I've moved away from those relationships, and find I can breathe much easier now. There are no easy answers, but confidence in who I am has been my main road map, and it has not steered me off course yet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You Can't Always Get What You Want

When my kids want something and I say no and they kick up a fuss, I often respond by singing the chorus of the classic Rolling Stones song, "You can't always get what you want." It never fails to produce a smile from them, albeit grudgingly, and sometimes I need to sing this to myself when I have expectations which are not being met.

The fact of the matter is that we don't always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we do get what we need. One of the best things about getting older has been understanding the line between want and need. It can be a very thin space between the two, but we can survive and even thrive with what we need instead of what we want, if we will adjust our perspective accordingly.

There is a prevalent lie in our society which tells us that we can have it all; that it's possible to make three wishes and some magic genie will grant them to us. This fiction creates entitlement among even the nicest people, and feeling entitled is a miserable state to function in. We are not owed anything. Ask anyone struggling with a life threatening illness, or poverty, or misery of any variety, which is applicable to all of us. Life is not fair. Things don't always go our way, and every now and again I need to remind myself of this fact.

When we operate out of a sense of entitlement, we set ourselves up for failure. There is no substitute for hard work in this life, and often we do fall ass-backwards into good fortune, but we can just as easily lose what we have. Sometimes we try our very best, and things still don't go our way. It's always hard to suck it up and take it, but we can't always get what we want. We are not in sole control of our lives, and particularly our relationships. We can get hurt, and we can hurt others, and in spite of our best efforts, over and over again we will be disappointed.

Learning to accept this is a lifelong battle. It's helpful to be reminded that we need the long range view of our lives, and not just how we feel today. Not getting something we want now can make us angry, but eventually lead us to much better things, if we will only be patient. Our attitude is critical to our success in life.

Steven Berlack said, "It isn't your skills that are keeping you from succeeding; it is your attitude." Whenever I feel like pouting about how life isn't fair and others are getting ahead of me, I stop and read that quote, and decide again to do the best that I can, and to try to leave the rest alone, for where a lot of things are out of my control, my attitude is mine to choose.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scorning Weakness

Last week Jason had a tensor bandage on his foot as he gets periodic tendonitis. He was limping around a bit and I was bugging him about it, suggesting he man up and take the bandage off. He said, "You scorn all weakness, don't you?" and I laughed, but then later realized he's actually right, and I wondered again why it's so hard for me to accept anything other than strength.

I think I developed this intolerance for weakness from a very young age, and it simply grew to become part of my soul as I got older. It's not something I'm proud of at all, but like all blind spots, I couldn't see it unless it was pointed out to me. I had the word "vulnerability" jump out at me in my parenting course, like a swear stands out on a page in a book that your child reads over your shoulder, and I understood with a shock that I had banished vulnerability from my personality, but it actually had a right to be there.

The softer side of who I am needs to be developed, like any underused muscle group, and I have to work at it. Being aware that I need to work on this is the first step, and being reminded on a regular basis is helpful as I learn to build up the sweet and vulnerable person who would like to have a voice inside of me, but who keeps getting kicked down and beaten up by the more vicious elements of my personality.

I'm embarrassed at how many times I've praised the strong and turned my back on the weak with other people, and even with my own husband and children. I've said, "Suck it up" to my kids more times than I can count, and intentionally refused to baby anyone who was sick because I thought it was encouraging weakness. None of this was ever conscious to me, but I can see now that I've been like this for most of my life, and I don't want to be a drill sergeant.

I want to be as fully rounded in my personality as possible. Vulnerable should be able to walk side-by-side with capable, and not cancel it out. I think my "all or nothing" attitude was a defense against chaos that I couldn't control in my childhood, but now I'm allowed to cultivate a variety of qualities and I have the freedom to bring all of these parts of me into the light. Initially it's strange, like everything new, but I think if I keep walking this road, and becoming who I really am, eventually I'll look in the mirror and recognize these qualities as being mine, and own them fully.

I don't want to scorn anyone for weakness, least of all myself. We are all weak in some areas, and strong in others, and we don't have to stop improving ourselves as long as we are alive. I want less fear of what I don't understand, and more tolerance and acceptance. There is room in this world for all of us, with our differing opinions and ideas. Kindness is the key.

After I apologized to Jason for my snarky comments, I felt much better, and whatever odd power the tensor bandage had over me was broken. He limped for a few days, then took the bandage off, and life went back to normal. And it didn't need to mean anything to me, except that I received the reminder that we all limp from time to time, and we don't need to be ashamed of that fact.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Settling In

The process of changing is so long, and so fraught with difficulties, that it becomes hard to spot the positive things. All of a sudden you recognize that you are different, and that the hurt and discomfort has budged a little to allow for a settling in; a place for the change to take root and eventually grow into something beautiful.

I've made a lot of decisions in the last few months which have not been popular with many people in my life. It has been painful for me to make these changes, knowing that others will take offense or be hurt. It's never a comfortable or easy thing to wound someone else, no matter how valid the reason. It's tough all around. But for one of the first times in my life, I made the decisions that I felt were healthy and necessary for me.

Initially, it felt extremely selfish. Then that gave way to panic and fear that I was a bad person, and after a long time, those things faded away and left a reassurance in their place. A slow sense of peace and comfort has been coming to me, reminding me again that change is never easy, but when it takes you toward something stronger and better than you had before, you are on the right path, and the hurt won't last forever.

As humans, we are designed to feel strong emotions, but it's a relief to know that they don't always stay with us. They change, like the tides, bringing something hard on the heels of something wonderful, and vice versa. It's a process of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, hurts and healings. It never ends. I've learned that hurting others is never what I want to do, but sometimes it's a by-product of what I need to do to get better. I wish I could get through life and not wound anyone else, but the only way to do that is to wound myself, again and again, and I'm not wanting to walk that road again.

I know I am responsible for who I am, and what I do. This involves what I sometimes do to others. I'm sorry when others are hurt by anything I say or do. I used to protect myself in layers of blame and deflect any guilt from my own shoulders because it was too hard to face. Now I'm alright with taking on that responsibility, provided it's mine to own, and then I can apologize and not stay stuck at any point. I know I will fail, but I also know that I won't worry any longer about what I can't control.

This settling in is a welcome change from constant emotional upheaval. I'm embracing it with open arms. I think some of the changes have gone deep and become part of my character now, and it's not such a struggle to decide if I'm on the right track or not. I know I can't go back to the way I used to live. There is only forward for me now, and living in the light, as honestly as I can, and keeping my boundaries in place, for they protect me when I'm tempted to carry another's pain for them. Now I'm owning my own feelings and responsibilities, and that's enough weight for me to hold.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

We Matter

Who we are, and what we do, matters in this life. This is at the heart of what our pastor has been speaking about in his series on death and the resurrection. Our actions here are connected to what comes later. This is not meant to frighten us into being good, for it should in fact have the opposite effect. Our actions do not determine or define us. If we all relied on ourselves to somehow "get it right" when it comes to faith and good deeds, we would all be sunk.

There is no way that any of us can know for sure what is right and what is not. We have God to rely on to be our moral compass. That brings a lot of comfort and relief to me, as I used to waste inordinate amounts of both time and energy worrying about the idea that I might be on a wrong track, and that the door to heaven might be closed to me.

I've opened my mind now to believe that God doesn't work that way. The "in" or "out" concept in Christianity always bothered me, and I still don't know exactly how it all works, but I know that God is love, and that he is all about forgiveness and grace and new beginnings, so I think I've been barking up the wrong tree for most of my life when it comes to fearing his judgement and being cast out for some insignificant detail.

It feels great not to worry so much about what might happen in the future, and instead pour my energy into this life, right here and now, because I know how to taste and touch and feel my way through this human experience. I can relate to what it means to be alive, and I have to believe that it's a continuous process; that life here carries on in some way beyond death. My choices matter, as does whether I'm kind more often than I'm mean, and I'm investing in the real now instead of the pretend, and I have to hope that choice will mean something beyond the confines of this life.

Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us hope. The resurrection took all of his disciples by surprise. To them, dead was dead, and to see him rise from the dead and walk among them was shocking to the extreme. I am learning that this hope of new life extends to me as well, both here on earth but also for whatever may come next. I always hated the idea that heaven meant losing who I am and simply becoming a floating spirit, praising God for all of eternity. I didn't want to lose myself, or my identifying markers, and I'm believing now that I won't.

What we invest in here on earth has a lasting value, or at least I hope it does. That idea lends more gravity to my experience, and it gives me a chance to consider carefully how I live, and lends a longer shadow to the cause and effect of each decision I make. I don't feel as afraid of death anymore, when I consider the concept that this life and the next are connected, and that who I am now matters to the person I will remain.

I don't need to know all of the hows and whys any longer. I know Jesus, and I believe in his forgiveness and love, and if I bank on it in this life, it will have to be enough to sustain me for what might come after. No matter what it is, I'll be in his care, and I hope to remain fully myself, with all of my strengths and weaknesses. I want to build who I am in this life, and have it matter in the next one, and I love the idea that this is possible.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Collect Before We Direct

In the parenting course I'm in, we recently learned the term, "Collect before we direct." It refers to a courtship dance which exists with adults and babies, and then seems to be overlooked as our children grow into toddlerhood and beyond. The collection process has four steps:

1. Get in your child's face (or space) in a friendly way, collecting the eyes, a smile and a nod.
2. Provide a 'touch of proximity' for your child to hold onto.
3. Invite your child to depend upon you.
4. Act as your child's compass point.

We would never verbally command a baby to look at us, but would instead move ourselves into their sight line, smiling like crazy or otherwise making a fool of ourselves to get them to interact with us. Dr. Gordon Neufeld suggests that we do the same with our children, regardless of the age they are at. He suggests that we must collect our kids after any period of separation (like the morning after sleeping, or after school) and invite them into connection with us again.

Our society is built on this kind of connection between adults, but yet we neglect to practice it with our children. When we meet a new adult, we shake hands, smile, nod and make a personal connection using these steps. We don't immediately bark orders at someone we are initially connecting with, but instead we warm them up first by asking how they are doing, engaging in pleasant conversation, and then asking what we intended to ask.

I've been trying this with my kids. Looking at them, smiling at them and trying to get them to respond in kind before asking them to do anything at all. This establishes our relationship connection before I make any demands. The second step involves reaching out in some form of physical touch, and if they are receptive to the connection that has been made, they will reciprocate and not pull away. If they pull away, I must go back to step one and try again to collect their attention, and their hearts.

Steps three and four come as a natural result of collecting them and having them feel attached and connected to me. It's easy to be over-focused on independence, and forget that children are actually designed to be dependent. If they are properly attached and feel that they can rely on the adults they are connected to, they will become independent when they are ready and not before. We can't force them to be independent (as I learned with William last fall) but it comes naturally as long as they have been allowed to be dependent and cared for.

I have learned so much in this DVD course. I love being able to implement it right away with my kids and see a positive change. I always knew that relationship was important, but now I get that it's the key to everything that I do as a parent. If I don't have a working connection to my kids, I have no basis for relationship. Just because I love them, doesn't mean they have to love me. That is earned, and it's based on the quality of our relationship.

"Collect before we direct" is an easy way to remember that our kids need to be wooed into relationship with us. We love them deeply, and sometimes fail to show them that love when we are trying to do everything else required of us as parents. Creating a context of connection is key to establishing trust and safety with our kids. If it doesn't exist already, we can look for ways to create it, and build this relationship up so our kids know that they matter to us, and are invited to exist in our presence.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Today I'm grateful for how far I've come in my relationship with God. The guilt and fear that used to motivate me to serve so I would be worthy of love has been ebbing away gently for a long time, leaving peace and contentment in its wake. Now I understand on a cellular level that I am loved simply for who I am, without working to earn it or keep it. I am loved because I exist, and for no other reason.

It's a whole new world for me. I understand Jesus's death on the cross and resurrection very differently too, and where I felt straitjacketed and penned in before, I now experience freedom to breathe and move and be who I am without judgement. I honestly can't believe I ever lived any other way, but I must remember to be kind to those who are in a different place. It seems like slavery versus freedom, and once you've tasted freedom, there is no other option.

I believe that God loves everyone in this pure, all-encompassing way, if only we can get all of the dogma out of our system in order to experience it. I will spend the rest of my life opening up my mind and heart to experience his love, grace, forgiveness and liberty. On this day, where we remember that Jesus died to save us, I am thinking about his profound final words on the cross, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Forgiveness was on his mind, even in his last moments of life, and he understood our brokenness and mistakes, and loved us anyway.

Love God. Love others. These four words have revolutionized my faith and brought it all back to the basics. I've had to strip away the endless layers of junk that doesn't matter, that simply clogs up the beauty of loving God, being loved by him, and extending that love and kindness to other people.

Today I'm grateful for Jesus's love and care for me, and for everyone who has ever lived, and I feel close to God in a way that I haven't for years. Conflict does that for you. It takes me out of my own abilities and draws me toward God, because he loves me no matter what, and accepts me for who I am.

I used to pretend for God the way I pretended for people, putting on my mask and smiling when I was actually dying inside. Now I'm learning to remove that mask, and I'm finding that his love can go deep and heal what is jagged and torn inside of me, from my past and my present. If I allow him to, he will speak clearly to me, and show me, again and again, how much he loves me. I don't have to work for it. He's already done it for me. I can simply be, and open my hands and my heart, and be loved.

It's transformational; there is no power like unconditional love to break us down and rebuild us so we are stronger and better people. It's been happening this way for me, and I've never felt as vulnerable as I do right now, but I believe this work is getting me somewhere better than I've ever been before. If I'm patient, I think I'll get there. It's a process, and a long one, filled with uncertainty and moments of great joy, but Jesus is leading me somewhere, and I'm more than happy to take his hand and walk where he is going.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rise Above

I love Michael W. Smith's newest album Wonder. Every time I listen to it, I feel as if God is speaking directly to me, and I come away moved and changed. This has not been an easy week, for a bunch of separate reasons, and the song 'Rise' has a lyric which says, "Just leave it all behind, and rise above."

I must have listened to that song thirty times this week. When I would begin to doubt myself, or flounder in fear and want to go back to my old ways, I would crank it up, and listen while the tears flowed. Life is short. We all know this. It's not worth holding on to resentment and anger. I want to let it go, and move on, and be healthy and strong in my boundaries and in myself.

The key is to feel the pain and the hurt, to stop shutting it down and lying to myself that it doesn't hurt when it does, and then, and only then, will I have a chance to leave it behind. It's the same damn backpack of rocks again. I end up wearing it, trudging around, thoroughly exhausted, before I remember that I'm supposed to set it down and leave it by the side of the road.

It's hard to get away from our personality entrapments. We all have them, and are generally blind to them. I get so far in before I realize that I've messed up, yet again, and taken on more than I should have. The good news is that I can always change, and do my best to fix the mistakes I've made. I'm trying to improve when it comes to beating myself up. Flogging myself isn't very helpful in the long run. I'm human, therefore I screw up, and there is glorious freedom in accepting this as truth and not hiding from it anymore.

We all revert to past habits when we feel threatened. We long to feel safe, and cared for, and not vulnerable to attack. But we are vulnerable, and can be hurt, if we are not hiding our true feelings from ourselves or others. I think I'm having a hard time accepting this. I know how to hide and protect myself, but this living in the open is fraught with peril. I have to keep going, with one foot in front of the other. We all have to, as the alternative is stagnation or backwards motion, and I want to move forward now.

The Michael W. Smith song is about taking the hand of Jesus in order to rise above the wind and the waves and the storm. He is offering that hand all of the time, and it's up to us to take it. The song says, "Come see what I can see." God has a different vantage point than we do, and I prefer his view to my limited one. It's time to leave it all behind, and rise above.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Invitation to Exist

We all long, deep inside, for a place of safety. That sensation of coming in from the cold, closing the door behind us, and knowing we are safe, loved, and okay. There are different layers of safety in this world. There is physical safety, which is first and foremost, because if we aren't fed and clothed and don't have a roof over our heads to protect us from the fickle nature of the weather, the rest of our safety needs don't matter very much. We can be physically safe and cared for, but miss out on emotional and psychological safety and acceptance.

There is a need inside of all of us to be seen and validated for who we are. In the parenting course I'm attending, it's called "an invitation to exist." I love that phrase. So simple and so very beautiful, and it holds the key to feeling safe with other people in a psychological way. If you matter to someone, and you belong with them, and are accepted by them, you will feel safe to be yourself without playing a role.

Pretending can get you far in your relationships, but at a certain point you realize you are exhausted, and you see that you've never actually been brave enough to expose other people to the person you genuinely are. You fear that you won't be considered acceptable to others if you show your true face (in fact, it can be challenging to even know what that true person looks like because he or she has been so carefully hidden for so long) and therefore you hide yourself away, so far down that no one can access you.

It's always a risk to come out of pretending and deal in the real you. Being rejected when you are playing a part is a hell of a lot easier than being rejected for who you really are. But the rewards of being your true self in all situations are incredible: instead of putting your energy into figuring out what someone else wants from you and delivering it, you are simply who you are, making your own decisions for your own reasons, and the other person has to decide if they accept you or they don't. All of the games and the stress and the anxiety you used to experience simply fades away, and eventually ceases to matter.

Your circles may shrink, and you will most definitely lose some people you once believed to be very important to you. Some of this may be temporary. Some of it may be forever. There is a shifting of all roles when you change your side of the interaction. It's uncomfortable and difficult and many mistakes will be made. But if you persevere, and believe in yourself, and hold the real as more important than the fake, when the storm is over there will be a rainbow, and a promise to never return to the old way of doing things, and the belief that everything will work out in time.

Not being tied to the consequences and outcomes of every situation is a good way to free yourself from the expectations of others. You are responsible for yourself, and not for other people. If we all had those boundaries and lived within them, we would hurt each other less, and the world would be a happier place to be. We all want to be invited to exist in each other's presence. Some people may not be ready for that, and it's okay, but we have to find ways to let ourselves out into the light, and find a handful of people who will accept us as we really are.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Key

Today is Jason's birthday. After a time of personal upheaval and change for me, I'm thinking about the decisions I made to get me to this place in life, realizing again that he is a key to my sense of happiness every day. I was terrified of my feelings when I met Jason and began falling hard for him. The intensity of the emotion was unprecedented for me, and I wasn't entirely sure how to manage it.

I wanted to believe he was good for me, but I was so bound up in fears that I would end up with a stormy marriage like my parents had, and that I would inadvertently choose someone who wasn't going to be a good life partner. I polled all of my friends and my family members during our courtship, begging for honesty and wanting to look at it from all angles. It's virtually impossible to be objective yourself when you are falling head over heels in love with someone.

I've told my kids for years that they need to rely on the guidance of others when they meet a person they are attracted to. Others will be more objective than we are in that kind of intense situation. Everyone who loved me, loved Jason when they first met him, and that was what eventually relaxed me in our relationship. I asked often for advice, and over and over again I was told that Jason was kind to me, and seemed solid and trustworthy, and older than his years.

Those things have never stopped being true. Not since the first day I met him, and not in the year and a half we dated, or the eight months we were engaged, or the almost thirteen years we have been married. Those qualities have not changed, but simply improved. With every layer of history, we add to who we are as individuals, and who we are as a couple, and then a family when our kids were born. We value each other more, and find ways to give something back when we would rather be selfish and get our own needs met first, and we still make an effort to be kind to each other.

We laugh. A lot. It's still fun to make each other laugh, and to spend time dreaming about the future and what we would like it to look like. As we become more sure of ourselves as individuals, we end up strengthening our relationship as a married couple. We have never stopped learning new and better ways of doing things so that we don't stagnate and get bored.

We fight. I think that healthy relationships have lots of arguments in them. We try not to wage war in silence, but instead by using words and owning up to the emotions we feel at any given time. We attempt to say sorry when we have been snippish and rude, and think it's important not to let long periods of angry silence develop between us.

We talk. About everything. I'm not always interested in every aspect of his work life, because I don't understand a lot of it, and I'm sure it's the same for him with my home life and my writing dreams. But we still listen, because that communication builds a bridge which connects us when our days keep us apart. I talk ten times more than he does, and we've accepted that and don't worry about the word count inequity any more. It's part of the fabric of our relationship, and we each have radically different personality strengths and weaknesses.

Parenting together has been an adventure. He has ideas which I'm opposed to, and I know he thinks some of my methods are odd, but we manage to meet in the middle over most things. As the kids get older, I love to watch their relationships develop with each of us separately. He does different things with them than I do, and it's good for everyone to recognize these differences and embrace them.

I love my husband. I'm grateful that I met him, and had the good sense to fall for him, and choose him as my marriage partner. I'm crazy glad that he picked me too, and that we made it through many of the bumpy early years to get here, to this place of peace and joy in our relationship. It seems to get better with each passing day, and I love that we don't know what the future holds, but we know we are in this together, and for the long haul. Happy Birthday Jason, and thank you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Feeling Brings Healing

Healing from hurts is a messy, long and sometimes frightening process, but one day you wake up and realize that you are a little bit better, and from there you can see the good things just as much as the painful ones. I'm learning to feel what hurts at the time that it hurts me, and not stuff it down to deal with another day. That's how I used to manage things, but when I didn't allow it to ever see the light of day, it would control me much more than I wanted it to, without ever once realizing that was happening.

Now that I'm striving for authenticity in my emotions, and trying to take responsibility for my decisions and actions, and being who I am in all settings, I know that my feelings are a key to my overall health. I can't pretend that I'm okay when I'm not. This makes some social situations a little messier than they used to be, because that vulnerability lives just under my skin and can bring me to tears at any time, but I'm not hiding that any longer.

Feeling brings healing. I see that now in a way that I didn't before. My armor was so carefully constructed and built on an image that I fought hard to maintain, but I was deeply disconnected from my true emotions. Now that I am allowing them more free rein, I can grieve or rage or delight, and know that I won't stay forever in that state. It will pass, and something else will move in to take its place. And that will continue to happen, every day that I am alive.

No matter how hard something is to go through, if we experience the deepest levels of feeling associated with the situation, we have a better chance of healing from it and moving on without holding on to bitterness. Someone once said that "bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping that someone else will die from it." I held on to grudges for a lot of my life, and only recently discovered that my unacknowledged anger was hurting me more than the person I was bitter at.

Forgiveness can release me from the grip of other people's choices. I am only responsible for my own decisions, and I don't want to be tied to what others do by holding on to my hurt and bitterness. Forgiving is like grabbing a huge pair of scissors and cutting the cord that connects me to someone else. I prefer to be free than to be resentful and angry. If it sounds easy, it's anything but. It's one of the hardest things there is, but I've heard Dr. Phil ask, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?" Now, at this stage of my life, I pick happy.

I love that every day I have a choice. I can be myself, or I can pretend to be someone else so I might be liked by more people. I can be kind, or I can be rude. I can give to others, or I can be selfish. And I can feel the appropriate emotion for the situation I'm in, and not try to force it away. If I feel it, it will go away when it has done its work and accomplished what it was there to do. I'm beginning to trust in that process, and know that I don't have to have the answers, I just have to feel what I'm feeling.

It's good to move into this season of my life. One where who I am takes precedence over everything else. When I mess up, I'm still okay, because I am no longer the same as what I do. I can experience love that is not tied in to my performance. I deserve to be loved for who I am, and when I am hurt and disappointed by others, I can feel the pain, and eventually move on from it.

I don't even have to seek healing for my heart because it will come if I will be brave enough to walk through the emotions I feel at any given time. I don't want to be bitter and angry any longer. I choose freedom, and forgiveness, and a road which offers grace instead of judgement, for myself and for others.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If It Is Possible

When we have conflicts with others, there is a level of stress which comes along with the division and strife, and makes us question our own motives and wonder if we are doing the right thing. I was feeling despair over something recently, and I had a tiny snippet of scripture pop into my head, as a carry-over from some long ago Sunday School class. It was "Live at peace with everyone."

This deepened my sense of misery, for I added guilt in to my own mix of volatile emotions, as I realized that I was attempting to live peacefully with others, but it wasn't working out that way in a few situations. Before I sharpened up my boundaries with my counselor last month, they were so permeable and formless; designed to make others happy at all costs and most of the time, my own needs got lost in the process. I felt like I offended people less with this set of guidelines, but in coming to terms with my own needs and trying to access a level of personal and emotional authenticity, I was inadvertently hurting others.

After stewing in my bad feelings for awhile, I grabbed my Bible and looked up the passage I was thinking of in Romans 12:18. Much to my delight, I discovered that the entire verse reads like this: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." If we have boundaries, and are confident about the reasons why we do the things we do, it is not always possible to live at peace with everyone.

I am only responsible for my side of any human interaction. If it is possible, I want to get along with people and never hurt others or be hurt. But where my desires contradict someone else's, conflict rises up between us, and there may be discord. It's not a comfortable feeling to have others angry with you for any reason, but it's a big part of the human experience we are all living through.

My days of contorting backwards to make sure no one else hurts are over. I am now working on living my life with as much love and kindness as possible, but I'm standing up for my boundaries and decisions, and recognizing the gospel truth that I will not always make other people happy. I'm learning to live with the fall-out from this way of existing. I have embraced who I really am, and am not hiding that person from the world, but not everyone likes who I am, and I will not go back to pretending to be someone else to grease the wheels of human contact.

It is a new thing for me, and will take practice to find my way. I make more mistakes now, and there is some collateral damage which did not exist before in my relationships. I'm sorry for any hurt that others experience as a result of my boundaries and values. I will apologize for what is mine to own, but I will not pretend to be anyone other than who I am to make someone else feel better. Being genuine is the top order of business for me now, and however easy it might be to slide back into some of my old patterns, I am fighting against them, and will continue to do so as long as I am alive.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on me, I will live at peace with everyone, but I will not obsess over what I cannot control, and will accept that just because others don't agree with my decisions doesn't mean I don't have the right to make them. We all have to live with the consequences of our actions and attitudes. I'm trying to be more intentional and aware of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, because I know I have to live with the results, either positive or negative.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


This past week I went into our high school for my first speaking engagement as a writer. I tried to soak up the pure joy of being asked, of seeing the realization of my dreams come true one by one, and to have the chance to give something back and possibly motivate others with my circuitous path to get where I am today.

I rehearsed a few things in my mind, but didn't write anything down or plan too much, and was a little nervous walking into the school. There tends to be a disconnect in our town between the elementary school and the high school, in that the elementary is lauded as a wonderful school (and it is, a million times above and beyond any expectations I might have held as a parent) and the high school is feared a bit by parents of younger children. There is no real reason for the anxiety, just a general fear that we don't know what to expect when our children are ready to move to "the big school next door."

Walking in for the first time, I was greeted warmly in the office, and after I signed in, was offered directions to the classroom I would be speaking in. I walked the halls to get there, peeking into rooms as I went, and gradually feeling calmer and happier about the school. Laughter rang out, kids walked in the hallways and greeted me with a smile or a nod, and I realized clearly that the worry I was experiencing, like so many worries, was not founded on anything real at all.

In small towns, people talk, and we have to choose what we add to the conversations we hear. I've been dead guilty of spreading negativity around, and buying into the game of telephone that can exist when "facts" are passed from person to person and end up bearing no relation to the grain of truth the topic may have started with. During the election, when Jason ran for town council, I was brought up short on this point, and since then, have been working harder to get all of the information before I pass along anything I've heard.

The mystery surrounding the high school is a part of this vicious circle of negative information. I'm so glad to have met the teacher who invited me to speak to her class, because she is passionate about how wonderful the school is, and her passion sparked something inside of me to get involved and make a positive difference. As a result, we have begun a student-led newsletter committee and are hoping to communicate some of the great things going on at the school to the broader community. The students I met inspired me with their enthusiasm and interest to promote what they love about their school to the rest of our town. Positive energy is catching; it flows from one person to the next and lifts everyone's spirits.

When I got to the class and began speaking, I was relaxed and encouraged from my short tour through the halls. I realized again that I have something to give, and if I take the time to get involved, the potential exists for me to receive ten times what I gave away. Those students listened, laughed, and interacted with the message I delivered about following their passions, leaving perfectionism and a hope for overnight success by the wayside, and building their confidence to do what they want to do with their lives.

They asked thoughtful questions when I was done talking, and I loved giving them the most honest answers I could. I saw something in their eyes which motivated and challenged me. These kids have their whole lives in front of them, filled with possibilities, and I clearly remember what it felt like to sit in those hard classroom chairs and stare into the future. It's daunting, but also exciting, and I came home jazzed and enthused by the idea that we can all give something to each other, regardless of our ages, interests or the paths we take in life.

If we are truly ourselves, comfortable in our own skin, we can relate to anyone and offer something of ourselves without losing any of our own ground. I felt way better walking out of the school than I did walking in. And that kind of change stays with me, becomes part of my character, and makes me a better person.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hard Lessons

It's hard to teach our kids some of the harder lessons of life that they really don't want to learn. I know it's good for them in the long run, but in the short term, my heart aches when they hurt and I have to encourage them to soldier on, for that is where the lesson is found. Not quitting when it's hard is a major theme of life, for kids and adults, but learning it hurts. There doesn't seem to be a way around that.

Yesterday morning we had a huge dump of snow. I don't use the word huge lightly here - it was snow central and still coming down. William's preschool was cancelled, and the last thing I felt like doing was rushing out of the house and skidding around the streets before the plows had been out. So I told Ava she could stay home for a few hours, in her pj's on the couch with a stack of books, and enjoy the winter scene outside without actually having to interact with it.

She was thrilled. I was too. I told myself, "Look how far you've come as a mom. Six months ago, you would've felt like a wimp staying home because of snow, and would've felt stressed seeing other moms take their kids to school (it's only in town for crying out loud), but this time around, I didn't need anyone's permission to make this decision." Recognizing these things felt good, as I'm slowly changing the tape that plays mercilessly over and over in my head about how I should be doing something, or what people are expecting of me. Letting go of all of that anxiety, and simply asking what I want to do, is beyond liberating.

We stayed home, warm and cozy and safe, and I made chocolate chip scones for our mid-morning snack, and then encouraged Ava to get dressed for school around 11 am. She began to cry, saying she felt safe at home, and wanted to stay near me, and begged to stay home all day. It would have been easy to say yes, but I knew the lesson lay in her facing her fear, doing what she didn't want to do, and knowing she was still safe.

In the mid-afternoon, I was speaking at the high school and staying after school for a short meeting, so Jason was going to be picking her up from school, and I knew that a lot of her anxiety was wrapped up in the change to her routine. I saw myself as a kid when I looked at her scared face, and I gently told her that she had to trust that daddy was capable of being there for her, and that if all of her security was tied up in her routine always being the same, she wouldn't learn how to manage change.

Life is change, whether we like it or not, and being flexible with our schedules is a part of childhood and adulthood. We have to learn how to manage the change that we can't foresee and accept it. I told Ava that she was still safe even though I wasn't picking her up like usual. It was not easy to walk her to her classroom and see her cry, and hear her friends ask why she was crying. I want her to face these hurdles and build her own self confidence.

I can't rescue her from every tough situation, but it is my job to help her through what frightens her, to the best of my ability. I don't want her to feel alone, but I can't take on her hurt and feel it for her. She has to walk her own road, and develop skills to adapt to the world she lives in. We all must do this, and I don't know if it ever gets any easier.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Relationships are Forever

There is an element of investment in our relationships which lasts forever. So often I hesitate to invest, thinking I can't spare the time or am afraid to be hurt, but recently I heard the statement, "Relationships are forever" and it had the effect of a cold pail of water to the face. I need to see these investments for the long-term value they possess, for memories don't tarnish or break. Once made, they stay in our minds forever.

When I think of my dad or my Granny or Jason's Gramma, my most significant relationships which have been cut off by death, I recognize that this concept is true. What they gave me of themselves lives on in my memory and through my life, and the experiences we shared together don't get lost or damaged. They are as real today as they were thirty years ago when I was a young child.

Our society values material things, and I forget sometimes to fight against that, and place my relationships higher on the list. What I give to my kids, and my husband, and the rest of my family and friends, lasts forever. When I look at it that way, it helps me see my time as the treasure it is, and firms up my boundaries for how I spend it. I want to build into those things that last, and not give away my love and energy thoughtlessly. These things are too valuable to be squandered.

We all have the same twenty-four hours in any given day to spend. Often I don't spend it like I plan to, because of illness or children or a million emergencies which may crop up at any moment. I used to see the days where I did nothing productive as a waste of time, but reading my novel, snuggling with my sick kid on the couch, or talking on the phone with a friend is not wasted time if I am feeding my soul or creating a memory. I find it virtually impossible to achieve that elusive sense of balance, where leisure and ambition are two sides of the same scale, and are perfectly level and measured, but every day I'm alive is another day to try for it.

I'm going to add "relationships are forever" as a postscript to the bottom of my boundary sheet. Investing in others is a lifelong proposition. It is why we are alive, so that we can overlap the edges of our lives and emotions with someone else, and find meaning together through all of the heartbreak and euphoria that is life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sick Boy

Having a sick boy forces me to slow down. To notice him more, and to relax and enjoy the short time alone with him before he enters school in the fall. He begs me to cuddle with him, and instead of attacking my long to-do list, I shut down my laptop and go join him on the couch. He asks a million random questions which I must summon my tired brain to answer, and we giggle over silly cartoons together.

He will remember that I took this time with him. It's a matter of building memories together. I want him to feel cared for and loved, and prioritized above all else. I will have many other days to write and accomplish something measurable, but for these few days, I am writing on the wall of his heart and mind, and imprinting myself there for when he will need to access that sense of love and care.

Investing in our kids is a lifelong endeavour. This notion helps me over the guilt when I explode at them, or the nagging worry that I'm missing the boat in some aspect of my parenting. It's true that we don't remember days, we remember moments. It all adds up, over the course of their lives, and if the good outweighs the bad, their memories will reflect this mathematical formula. If we screw up as parents (and we do, over and over again), we have another chance to do the right thing, and leave no doubt whatsoever in our kids' minds that they are loved and cherished above all else.

Taking this parenting course has made me aware again of the fact that everyone wants to be a good parent. Everyone loves their kids. We all have varying levels of competency and ability, but we all love, from the bottom of our hearts, and we all want the best for our kids. This knowledge helps me to be less judgemental, and more supportive. I hate feeling judged as a mom, for any reason and by anybody, so why do I feel it's okay to do it to someone else?

Having these precious few sick days has been good for me. I've had to put aside my desires and needs, and focus on William. He needed me, and I was able to be there for him. A year ago, when I was working part-time, I would have been stressed calling in sick or trying to work from home, or begging Jason to be here so I could go somewhere else. This time I was able to relax and be with him, and for the first time, there was nowhere else I really wanted to be.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where I Belong

Belonging has always been a huge theme for me. The idea of coming home, and knowing I have a place there, and will be accepted as myself. In this season of rebuilding after feeling torn up by my roots, I am coming to terms with this longing for a place to belong. Part of this process involves confronting my worries about death and what is to come after the certainty of this life, and thankfully, my pastor has just begun a series on this topic.

On Sunday morning, I woke up with the sensation of peace all around me. It felt a bit like lying on an air mattress on a hot summer day in a lake when a boat zooms by, creating gentle waves which toss you to and fro as you relax, your mind an empty space. I heard the song Welcome Home, from Michael W. Smith's newest album Wonder, as clear as could be, with its beautiful chorus, "This is where you belong...welcome home."

The song is about dying, and coming home, and finding that elusive place to belong. For the first time, I felt peaceful about this difficult subject, and on the verge of surrender to what is beyond my control and understanding. We went to church, and I listened intently to my pastor's topic of the resurrection of Jesus, and what that concept would have meant to the Jewish culture in the first century, and that feeling of peace never left me.

We all want to belong. To be accepted and loved unconditionally for the broken people we are. In this life, it becomes challenging to be loved in this manner, and to love others the way they need to be loved. But I'm coming to understand that God can always love me this way, and in fact always has, from the beginning of time. My acceptance of what comes after death is tied into this understanding. Having the answers begins to be less important than recognizing that God loves me, and is in charge of what will happen to me, and if I trust him, I can surrender my fear.

My answer to this problem has always been to bury it a little deeper within myself; to say, "I'm young and don't have to think about that yet." But it's like facing my fear of flying: I don't want to wait until the moment I board the plane to deal with it, or I waste the months of happy anticipation leading up to the trip. I want to live my life on earth with purpose and clarity and as much love and kindness as possible.

I believe that how I live now has a connection to whatever might come later, and I want to make this time count. I also want to feel peace and joy when I look ahead to the coming years, and not fear and worry. I don't understand the intricacies of the connection, but I believe there is one, and that gives weight and meaning to my choices now.

I am grateful for this peace. It has been a long time in coming, and I know it's a work in progress. There is more to understand, and accept, and believe, but for now, the answers I was seeking have lost their importance, and I've replaced my need for certainty with relationship. I am loved by God, and he will take care of me, so the fear can recede and be replaced by a quiet thankfulness and joy. This is where I belong. Right here and now; loved and hopeful and not controlled by fear any longer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In Fifty Years

We watched Transformers with the kids on the weekend, and when Shia LeBeouf's car transforms from a robot to a Camaro and offers him a ride, he turns to Megan Fox (possibly the worst actress I've ever seen) when she hesitates and says, "In fifty years, when you look back on your life, are you going to wish you had gotten into this car?" I loved this sentence, smack in the middle of a silly popcorn movie, for it struck me as an interesting way to measure risk.

I am fearful by nature, and am trying to challenge myself to take more risks, and practice leaving the shore instead of staying where I perceive I am safe all of the time. As I age, I find it easier and harder to try new things, all at the same time. The easy part comes in because I want to live with less regret, and I recognize that time is short, and if I want to get past some of my fears, there is no sense waiting. The hard part is always there because of my fear of change, and looking like an idiot, and wanting to preserve the quality of my life.

I like the idea of asking myself if I will look back and wish I would have taken a risk. It offers a perspective on the situation which reaches further than my narrow-minded view today. It's easy to talk myself out of things, or prioritize a situation based on what I think I need at the time, but what about in my old age? When I look back on my life, and the choices I made at each fork and bend in the road, I want to have more good memories than regrets.

Fear tends to keep us in the shallow water, where we are safe, but rarely exhilarated and challenged. It's about balance; finding that measure of both in our lives. Some people are natural risk-takers while others hang back and take the conservative road, and each group needs to step out of their comfort zone once in awhile and try something new.

From this point on, I hope to take this long-range view a little more often. Maybe it will help me step away from what's comfortable, to embrace the unexpected and see where those paths take me. I want to look back and have a rich variety of experiences to remember and enjoy. I don't want all of it to be safe and predictable and simple. The next time a robot transforms into a car and invites me for a ride, I think I'll climb in instead of running in the other direction.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


To one degree or another, we all live with regret. I think I experienced less regret in my early years because I worked so tirelessly at being perfect (and of course I failed, but I was not as aware of my shortcomings as I am now) and ended up with less to apologize for. Now I feel like I have loosened up my expectations on myself, which gives me more freedom, but also provides more opportunities to make mistakes, and therefore experience regret.

It's hard to face our limitations. We cannot meet the needs of everyone in our lives. It's simply not possible. There are boundaries we must live within to protect ourselves and the needs of our immediate family and friends. We have to learn to say no. This is very hard for me. I think I'm getting better, and then I fall right back into the trap that I'm not doing enough and am therefore falling behind in my own sense of self-worth and value.

I'm understanding that regret is an emotion I will feel sometimes, and if I am brave enough to look at it, I might be able to learn something which will help me in the future. I don't want to make the same mistakes over and over again, and I don't want to be so careful with my heart that I won't risk being hurt in relationships. I hurt others and they hurt me. It's part of the human experience.

I know it feels good to admit where I have failed, and I recognize that I can't go back and change things. I can apologize, and try to move forward, but words get said which lodge in the soul, and can never be taken back. Time heals all things, and lessens the sting of what hurts us in the moment, and I have that to look forward to. But it doesn't help with fresh regret when things don't go our way.

It always takes two to tango, and it's never fully one person's fault. I'm learning to perform my part of the relationship dance and leave some of the steps to the other person. It's hard because it means I'm giving up some control, but relationships are meant to be multi-faceted and more than one dimension. I have to play my part, and let the other person play theirs.

I don't know if it ever gets easier. Sometimes it feels like flying, where the skies are clear and the way is smooth and easy. Other times you are in the middle of a storm, and you can't see more than an inch in front of your face, and you feel afraid and unsure of what comes next. I guess we just do the best we can, and try to let go of what we can't control, and realize that if grace doesn't exist in our relationships, none of us would be able to carry on.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I am taking a class right now on attachment parenting, and am astonished at how deeply impacted I've been by the material. Most of it rings true, and I recognize it in my mind as true when it comes to children and how to parent them, but emotionally I have been gutted by some of the stages and levels of attachment, and where that process can be derailed. I feel like a child myself again, as I allow myself to feel hurt and disappointment in a way that I never have before.

We have all been let down by those we love, and we have all let down those we love. I know this to be true. But it's like a revelation when you can connect the dots between things that happened, long ago, and how you react to situations now, as a full-grown adult. Everything in this life is connected, in one long line, and hearing the theories of attachment parenting has been like taking off my dark glasses and seeing the light.

I'll probably write more on what I'm learning from Dr. Gordon Neufeld as I continue to attend the classes and get further into the material, but what struck me at the last class was the section on vulnerability. Attachment is about relationship, and how we feel that our children should love us because we love them, but it must go deeper than that. We must have their hearts, and they must attach to us. If you are attached you want to be with a person, and a parent is to be the true north for the child.

Attachment involves vulnerability. When you give your heart away, you risk it being broken. Our vulnerability lies in our emotions, and in the course I learned about the brain's automatic responses to the perceived threat of repeated damages to our vulnerable states: it shuts down and pulls away. This response is meant to be situational, but when the hurt happens again and again, eventually we get stuck in our attachment development, because our brain is unconsciously protecting us.

I had been slowly figuring some of this out over the course of the last year, but to hear it put so succinctly, and to recognize it so transparently, was powerful for me. It was like opening a window in a stuffy room, and breathing deeply again. It was freeing to see with some clarity what had happened, and how I reacted, and how I got from there to here in my life.

This is true for everyone. We all have healing to do. We are all vulnerable, but I had learned to shut down my vulnerability; to lock it away and pretend it didn't live inside of me. I think that's why William's hyper-sensitive nature, so similar to mine as a child, was so stressful for me. Unconsciously I recognized it and identified with it, but it felt dark and shameful to me, and I had trouble embracing it in him because I couldn't see that it was a big part of who I am.

Until recently. Now that I have been thawing my emotions, one by one, and feeling them in all of their horror or beauty, I am slowly shoveling my way back to my vulnerable core. I don't want to shun this part of me, hiding it in the basement of my psyche. I want to embrace it, for our strength dwells in our deepest vulnerability, provided we will acknowledge it as such.

There is no more pretending for me. I have walked that path, and now I'm on a different path, one that leads me to more honesty and recognition of myself. It's not easy and probably never will be. I know I still can't see most of what is really going on inside of who I am. But I'm closer than I've ever been before, and feeling the emotions and owning the vulnerable child who dwells in me is important and will get me where I eventually hope to go.

Friday, April 8, 2011


This week I have been remembering my dad. His body was found nine years ago this month, setting in motion a chain of events which changed the dynamics of my family forever, bringing long-buried feelings to the surface for many of us. My dad was a polarizing figure in our family. He struggled with his addictions, and rode the roller coaster of mental illness for most of his adult life, taking everyone around him on the same stomach-dropping ride, whether we wanted to or not.

I've been working on a memoir about my relationship with my dad, and I'm grateful for the time and space I have had from him to let the memories settle around me. It's like sifting through rubble, and finding tiny nuggets of gold to hold onto among the dirt and ash. There were many good things about my dad, and I love being able to remember them, holding the precious memories in my hand and feeling grateful for what he was able to give me.

The not-so-good times also live in my memory, but the sting of the hurt fades as the years roll on, and I am left with the choice to forgive and move on, or nurse my grievances like they are babies. After doing both, I know I prefer to let go and carry on with my life. People cannot give what they do not have inside of them to offer, including myself, and I must extend grace in order to avoid bitterness and dry rot in my own soul.

At some point we must all come to terms with our childhoods, whether they were of the Norman Rockwell variety or not, and move into adulthood accepting that our parents did the best that they could. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that my dad loved me, to the best of his ability, and that knowledge is enough for me now in a way that it wasn't sufficient before. I love remembering him, and in that way no one is dead and gone forever, because what they gave us becomes part of us, and lives on.

What was once hidden away inside of my soul is now emerging slowly into the light. I'm not afraid of the power of my emotions anymore, and the choking fear that was my everyday companion is loosening its hold on me. Freedom is the result of this discovery; for myself and from the many reasons I kept all of this hidden away for so long. Not anymore.

I can live as me now, out in the world, and all of the experiences which have formed me are mine to remember and own. I hope to honour the memory of my dad by writing about the story he and I shared together. For now, that is enough to keep me writing, and remembering, and continuing on my journey.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Kind Word

Sometimes a kind word makes all the difference in our day. It makes me realize again how much power resides in a compliment, and in the same way that something hurtful drags us down, an encouraging statement lifts us up so we can soar. I'm really trying not to worry about all of the petty things that happen to me anymore. Life is short, and if we want to enjoy it as much as possible, we have to let go of the little annoyances and grievances.

We all hurt each other, but similarly we can all make each other feel better, if we will take the time to be kind to someone else. I didn't see this as a priority when I was younger, but now I see my need for it the way I require oxygen or water. I wish I hadn't wasted so much time being competitive with people instead of looking for ways to be supportive, but there is no sense wishing for time to go backward. I can only go forward.

I worry about what people might think when I offer encouragement, because as a culture it is relatively foreign to support one another instead of compete and try to get to the top of the heap, but I've decided to stop obsessing about what I can't control, and err on the side of niceness wherever possible. Others might think I have an ulterior motive, and sometimes the desire to be counter-culture is a deep-seeded motive, but it has to be better than the way I used to handle encouragement, which was to grit my teeth and be secretly choked that someone else was getting ahead of me.

Is it our North American society which sets up these ridiculous levels of competition, or is it certain personality types, or the fact that I am broken and if I was healthier I would've been able to be supportive of others all along? I find this cutthroat competition everywhere I look, and I want to opt out of participating in it. I want to stop striving to beat someone else, and instead carry out my own goals and plans alongside of what others are doing, and stop to encourage where I see a place for it.

Being genuine matters here. I know I wasn't authentic in the praise I would offer others for a number of years, because of all that was churning under the surface which I wouldn't dare show to anyone, friend or enemy. But now that I have a little more balance in my life, I want to practice being genuine in these interactions with others. Offering a kind word, telling my friends regularly how much I value and appreciate them, encouraging my husband and kids when they feel low, and simply keeping my eyes open for opportunities to spread kindness instead of competition.

Anything new takes practice in order to form a habit. It would be great to see this spread far and wide, a kindness revolution where people feel satisfied with their own lives and are therefore able to encourage others to pursue their dreams. We are not actually competing with each other. We are all trying our best to make it through life, hoping to stay healthy and build strong relationships, and leave something good behind when our time is up.

It's healthier to walk through life shoulder to shoulder with each other, and not in a hierarchy where someone is at the top, and someone else is at the bottom. I've tried that route and don't find it works very well, especially when it's your turn to be at the bottom. A kind word can change the entire flavour of your mood and your day, so giving that feeling to someone else whenever you can, over time, makes a big impact on your relationships.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


On my Twitter feed, I recently saw this anonymous quote, "Who looks outside their heart, dreams, who looks inside, awakens." I have experienced this recently in my life, and found the process of looking inward to be deeply rewarding. It was also heartbreakingly sad and frightening, but a necessary part of any growth and change.

There is a certain bravery required of anyone who wants to live a real life, where the feelings are raw and unedited, and where responsibility is taken for what is yours to own. It's not an easy path to walk, but having been afraid of my feelings for most of my life, I find it freeing to embrace the rawness of who I really am, and walk through whatever comes as a result of the discoveries I make.

It feels like I'm thawing inside, at the same time as the snow is thawing to make way for the green (okay, brown) grass of spring. The thaw is messy, and dirty, and ugly for awhile until it accomplishes its work and everything becomes beautiful again. I'm hoping this is true metaphorically as well as physically with the changing of the seasons. For now I choose to have faith that the processes are parallel, and believe in what I cannot see at this moment.

I love to dream. I called this blog The Dream to Write to express how deeply I believe in the power of dreams, and I see your dreams as the road map to get you to the success you are searching for. I had never thought of a dream as being external, as opposed to the process of looking inside to stir yourself to change, but I think it's a beautiful concept.

Even the word "awaken" turns my heart toward hope like a flower to the sun. It speaks of possibilities and actions which have yet to be taken, and the process of awakening is long and private, but the end result is public for all to see. I want to stay the course and not give up when it is difficult. It's like shoveling dirt, so easy when it's soft and moist, and so hard when it's dry and cracked and immovable. When I hit rough ground I must continue on, and allow the moisture to come and soften it up, so that what has been planted can bloom.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who I Am

All of a sudden I like myself much more than I ever have before. I like who I've always been, and the person I am becoming, day by day and eventually year by year. We are all born with specific character qualities and quirks, and in childhood we learn which of those are acceptable and which need to be refined or destroyed, but the essence of who we are doesn't really change.

I think we can work on ourselves to improve the raw material, but the basic building blocks of our personality stay the same from birth to death. We are either right brained or left brained, funny or serious, social or introverted. We are all at different points on those continuums, and we can always change, but I'm realizing that perspective is everything here.

Some of the qualities I thought were not great can become great if I change the way I view them. I always hated and feared my own sensitivity, but now I'm trying to embrace it for the gift it can be, provided I don't shut it down and try to turn it into something else. I'm realizing that I have the right to be angry as well as happy, and that my extroverted nature swings on the hinge of my desire to be alone, and that all of those things work in tandem with each other.

I grew up seeing the world as very black and white. It's how I was taught, and there were elements of it which provided safety and comfort. There were also many areas that felt as constricting as a straitjacket. Loosening those bonds and opening myself up to mystery in my faith, values and opinions has been like experiencing a terrific thunderstorm, with moments of abject panic mixed with wonder and awe.

I like being complicated in my personality. I think all of us are wired this way, but we weed out the acceptable from the unacceptable based on the subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages we receive from our families and our cultures. It's only now, after I've done an intense amount of work on myself through a mixture of counseling and conflict, that I can see the other sides of my personality, which I've kept hidden in the basement for most of my life.

I can see these qualities, and coax them gently out into the light, and find ways to integrate them into my daily existence. I think this is what people mean when they talk about a "well rounded person." I felt two dimensional before compared to the extra dimensions I have now. I believe these qualities have always been there, but were forced into dormancy, and now I can ease them back into the fabric of my personality, for they have a place in me, and denying them is shutting down a portion of myself.

Who I am is a mix of attributes, negative and positive and everything in between, and I like that I feel the personal freedom to make room for everyone at the table. I'm not so choosy and discriminating anymore. I don't sit in harsh judgement on others like I used to, and therefore I have more grace for myself. I see the stuff that isn't so pleasant to look at within myself, but I also see the good qualities, and I'm learning to embrace all of it. Who I am is the sum total of all of the parts, and everything has a part to play if I will recognize that it lives within me, and that it has a right to be there.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Facing Fear

Coming to terms with fear is a bit like a child putting on an adult's coat and boots and heading out to face an enemy with a handful of stones. I always feel unprepared for the challenge I'm facing when I stare down something I'm afraid of. As a recovering control freak, I'm slowly recognizing that most of my fear comes from what I can't control, and the idea that I can control anything at all is mostly an illusion.

There is fear, and there is faith, and they are enemies to each other. It's like control and surrender; two sides of the same coin. For me, control is easier to understand and cling to, so I tend to go down with the ship, believing that I am in control when most of the time I am not. Surrender feels foreign to me, and seems like quitting, when in reality it is the only way to find the kind of peace and joy I've been looking for.

It's hard to undo what you have built up as your bedrock for most of your life. I don't want to be driven by fear any longer, in my daily life and decision-making process, or in my relationship with God and with other people, or even with myself. Fear can no longer be my driving purpose in this life because fear makes me approach everything backwards. I'm always shying away from something instead of moving toward my goals.

I want to deal with this idea of control sooner rather than later in my life. My fear of flying stems from this inability to relinquish control to someone else for my safety, even though I know the statistics when it comes to driving and flying and it makes no difference to me at all. Fear is not rational and cannot be explained away. It requires trust, and faith, and belief that you will be okay, and a certain acceptance of what could happen in the worst case scenario.

I am not at all where I would like to be when it comes to these things. I have written before about the gradual opening of my clenched fist to surrender my feeling of control about my life and my family and all of the things I hope to accomplish in this life before I die, and I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of this concept. It's simply the doing of it where I get stuck in my rut and find myself paralyzed and unable to do what I know I should do.

I suppose I have time, and Rome wasn't built in a day, and all of that. If I was doing everything right there would be nothing to learn and practice. I'm hoping that through this series on fear and death at church I will move further down this road toward surrender and faith, instead of control and fear. I have to keep the phrase "surprised by hope" in my mind, and believe that there is always a chance to get better, every day, once we become aware of the fact that we are ill and in need of a cure.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Surprised by Hope

Our fabulous pastor is beginning a series this morning called "Surprised by Hope." It's about death and the afterlife and facing our fears around these topics. Most of what I've heard in my Christian school education and Sunday School background has baffled me at best, and terrified me at worst, about the idea of dying and going to heaven.

As a child, I heard someone in authority explain eternity in this way: "Imagine a beach, filled with sand, going on as far as the eye can see. Every thousand years, a bird comes and picks up one grain of sand in its beak, flies across the ocean and deposits that grain of sand on the other side. When one beach is transferred to the other side of the ocean, that is the beginning of understanding how long eternity is."

Pardon me? I've never forgotten how anxiety-provoking it was to have that picture painted in my mind of a full beach, an empty beach, and an ocean in between. And every thousand years a bird comes to move one grain of sand? I think I'm having heart palpitations now as a 38 year old thinking about it again. Who in the world comes up with this stuff to try to teach children about a concept that no one really understands in the first place?

I much prefer the way my pastor describes it: "None of us knows what it's like to experience death. There are simply more answers than questions. But we know that this life has meaning and that meaning hopefully translates to what may come next, and if we know that God loves us, he will take care of us."

That gives me something to hold onto. Something real and true and certain, even though it's far less information than the bird on the beach scenario. At this point in my life I am searching for real information, even if it's shrouded in mystery, instead of the "certainty" I heard in my childhood that I struggled to make any rational sense of.

My vision of heaven has always been murky, with overtones of doom and gloom. I remember asking a Sunday School teacher once what we would actually do in heaven, and I received an answer along the lines of bowing down to worship God, or throwing crowns at his feet, or some similarly lofty, but unconnected to any reality I could understand, concept.

I now believe that the pictures painted in the Bible, particularly in Revelation, are meant as narrative, telling a story which another culture may have understood much better than we do. There is an element of these stories which has been lost in translation somewhere along the line, and it makes no sense to me now to read and understand these stories in the light of our culture today instead of the audience it was originally intended for.

Our pastor is going to look at the Jewish mindset when he explains some of these passages and ideas to us. I think that's a very valuable step in even attempting to understand anything when it comes to the Bible. I also know for sure that no one who is currently alive can really tell me what might happen when I die. When I was a child I missed this piece of the puzzle, but now I find a certain peace in this revelation.

I have a lot of fears about dying that I would like to come to terms with sooner rather than later. I am looking for peace in this series of messages about hope and how it ties into our relationship with God. I want to have more faith in God and less fear about the unknown. I want to get away from my old ideas and embrace new ones which make more sense to me. I love the freedom to change what I thought was true before, and look at things with new eyes.

Even the title, "Surprised by Hope" gives me a liquid feeling of peace in the middle of my chest where fear used to flutter around like a moth trapped in a small space. I hope to be surprised, and open to trust God to take care of me, both here on earth, through the corridor of death, and into whatever may come next. I'm not looking for hard answers, as I'm not sure those exist where these topics are concerned, but I'll settle for finding a little more hope than I have now, and believing that God knows what is coming even when I don't.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Lately I'm noticing that my emotional sensitivity level seems set to an all-time high. The tiniest thing can make me weep, or burst out laughing, and the other day I drove past horses standing in a muddy field and felt sad at the idea that their feet were wet and they seemed tremendously bored. At first I panicked that the jig was up and I'm finally losing my tenuous grip on reality.

But upon further examination, I realized that the hypersensitive nature which I've always assumed to be a bad thing, is actually a positive when it comes to my writing career. When I notice specific things and feel them deeply, I can describe what I observe in fine detail, and hopefully make it meaningful to someone else in the telling. Or at least this is my hope, because looking at it from this direction makes me feel more useful and less crazy.

I've always had an issue with sensing the distress of others and empathizing so that I feel the pain as well. For a long time this was related to my permeable and shifting boundaries, and had an unhealthy side because I felt responsible for the suffering of others, and wanted to fix what ailed everyone. Now that I've tightened up my boundaries, I think I finally understand that I can't fix the pain of others. Each person has to work on themselves, or choose not to make improvements, and I don't have to obsess over that. It's very freeing.

My sensitivity will probably never go away. It's part of who I am, and before this I pretended it wasn't there by carefully constructing layers of false bravado on top of it so the world thought I didn't care and couldn't be hurt by people when in fact it was the exact opposite. Possibly now I'm just not covering it so diligently anymore. I'm trying to define this depth of feeling as a strength and not a weakness.

I recently heard a statement about how changing the way we see things, is changing the way we do things, for action follows understanding. Becoming more aware of my sensitive nature has altered the way I see myself and the way I exist in the world. It doesn't make me weak or lame to feel the good and the bad in such specific ways. It is simply the way I am wired, and it can be a skill if I will stop pretending it away because it doesn't fit into my "approved" list of character qualities. I'm changing the way I view it, and that fact alone is warming me up to this aspect of who I am.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Boy

Today my boy turns five. In this last year, my relationship with him has transformed itself from the inside out, and I marvel at how far we have come together. I discovered in September that I had been unconsciously pushing him away since the day he was born, due to fears of mine which had nothing to do with him but everything to do with my own damaged perception of mothers and sons. When I saw the dynamic between us, my heart cracked in two and I don't know that it has healed yet or will ever heal completely.

Everything was so easy with Ava. She was the golden daughter, the happy baby who laughed and ate and slept with no visible effort. She made me look great as a mom, and I loved her without reservation or measure from the moment I first saw her. Then William was born, and where it was smooth sailing with Ava, it was choppy seas from the beginning with him.

He needed more from me, and I was reluctant to give him what he was asking for. I had him late Saturday night, came home from the hospital midday on Sunday, and taught a stamping class to ten women on Monday night. Business as usual. That was my M.O. with William. I was going to prove that I could manage a three year old and a newborn just fine with no interruption to my schedule.

And I did, for a little while, until I couldn't anymore. I complained more than I should have about how awful he was as a baby, when really he just wanted me to stop and soften my hard heart toward him. When he was seven months old, we moved to Alberta, and my crazy busy home business of rubber stamping workshops and classes came to a screeching halt, and it was the best thing for all of us.

I focused on William for the first time, and I realized how much I had missed of his babyhood already. I was determined to make up for lost time, but unbeknownst to me, my walls were still firmly in place against my own sweet son, and as I didn't even know they were there, I felt frozen in my inability to love and accept him the way I could so easily for Ava. It was beyond complicated, and I had no words for it, or skills to fix it, or anything at all except abject frustration at his blatant need for me.

It took a new preschool to wake me up and get me into a counselor's office. He was terrified of going and being away from me, and I could see kindergarten looming a year away like a date with the firing squad. I was at an absolute loss to know what to do with him, and if I'm really honest, I was mortified by his fears and how he made no attempt to hide them from anyone. My defense mechanism involved bluster and bravado, and William's was the direct opposite, and it terrified me in its raw vulnerability.

In one session, that counselor changed my life and William's. She turned our relationship upside down and gave me new eyes to see what I was doing to both of us and why I was doing it. I knew that I had to forgive myself for the mistakes I'd made (never an easy thing and still a work in progress) and then I had to smash down the wall that stood between me and my small son. I took a metaphorical sledgehammer to it, and within days, he would turn to me, and I would be there for him, and everything changed.

I grew to see him as he had likely always been, but I had been blind to it before. I opened my eyes to how incredibly sweet he was at his very core, and hilarious, and stubbornly sure of what he wanted and determined to get it (something I actually know a lot about from personal experience). I discovered that I loved him with the same fiercely protective love I had for Ava, but was afraid to admit to. When I conquered that fear, and embraced my intense affection for my boy, the whole world transformed and instead of living underwater and struggling for air, I could breathe freely inside of our relationship, and so could he.

This year has been a journey with no real map, but it's the best trip I've ever taken. I did not know I could feel this much love and acceptance, but I can, and William takes it in and then feeds it right back to me. He is becoming himself, which is all I could have ever hoped or dreamed for him to be, and I can support him without losing anything in the process. I am so grateful for my five year old son today, and I see how far we have come together, and I get down on my knees and thank God for the counseling session which changed everything, and returned a mother to her son so the relationship could grow from where it was to where it is today.