Tuesday, May 31, 2011

You Never Know

At church on Sunday, a woman got up and spoke from the front about how deeply she was affected by a talk I gave a few months ago on value and identity. I know who this person is but didn't know her personally, and I was so encouraged to hear that a portion of my life story had helped her sort through a rough patch in her own life.

"You simply never know the effect your words can have on someone else," she said. "I was all stirred up inside while you were speaking, and I went home and thought about what had touched me, and ended up coming to a place of peace with something I had been struggling with. I didn't even know it was bothering me until I heard your story, and I really appreciated your honesty in sharing it with us."

This moved me to tears. None of us has any idea what our experience might mean to someone else, but it won't be of any benefit if we hold it deep inside and don't share it. Coming to terms with my own fears of being who I really am in the world, and then expressing my thoughts and feelings as honestly as I can, has brought me so much freedom and joy, but it takes it to another level when we hear that it has helped someone else.

We are all living this life together, at this moment in history, and at this geographical place. I've moved all over and lived in many different cities, and a piece of me has always been left behind with the people I have met and loved along the way. And pieces of each of them live inside of me. This sense of community and connection means so much because it continually reminds us that we are not alone, and that we have something valuable to give if we will open our hearts enough to risk.

We can be easily hurt by one another, but we can also help in the most unlikely moments. And when we find out, virtually by accident, that we've made someone's life a little better, it can heal a lot of the cuts and bruises that we have sustained along our journey. Hearing from this person on Sunday, especially in a public setting like that, lifted my spirits immeasurably. It made me want to turn my heart inside out to give away what I can to see someone else find comfort when they need it most.

I realized again that none of us are in this alone, and that we each have something to give. It doesn't have to be much. Giving anything at all is better than holding back. And I want to tell those I love what they give me on a regular basis. When we have been blessed by someone, why not let them know? We might encourage them to keep going when they are feeling weary, and to keep risking even when it hurts, for you never know what might come from a little bit of honesty and openness.

Monday, May 30, 2011


I've been trying to pinpoint this mild sense of general malaise I've been waking up with lately (or GM as we refer to it in our household) and I think it comes down to sensitivity to criticism. I'm tired of being wary and on guard. I went from doing everything I could to be liked by everyone to the intense growing stage of finding out who I really am and accessing the courage to be that person in all situations.

The result of this process was understanding and accepting that not everyone likes me. I've had to make some difficult decisions about a few relationships, and the fall-out has been painful and caused me to do a lot of soul-searching. Intellectually I have been clear about what I was doing and why, and I stand behind those decisions and believe they will bear fruit in the long term. Emotionally, it is a different story.

Sometimes these hurts have a cumulative effect. We can manage them for a period of time, and then we realize we are tired of coming up against a brick wall. New growth in a person is delicate and needs to be sheltered from storms as much as possible, because it's so easy to slide backwards into the more comfortable ways we had of doing things.

I don't want to go backwards. Forward is the only direction I'm interested in moving now. But criticism hurts, there is no way around it, and not being liked for who you really are is a harsh form of criticism. Putting yourself out there in the world and being involved in committees and volunteer work is another avenue where you open yourself up for people to tell you all of the ways you can improve what you are doing.

I know this because I'm guilty of doing it myself. I'm trying to be more supportive and less critical as I go forward, but it's much easier to spot what could be better than it is to recognize the good things in any given situation. Some people are exceptional at offering praise, but they tend to be few and far between. The more time I spend with these people, the more I want to be around them. They buoy the spirit, bandaging what has been sliced open and wounded, and they inspire me to keep going.

I would like to be that kind of a person. It's a work in progress, like anything, but saying "Thank you" and "You did a great job" more often than sniping behind a person's back (or even to their face) really does pay positive dividends in your relationships. I want to be the change I would like to see in the world. It does no good hoping someone else will do it. We all have to do our part.

The best cure I know for getting over criticism is to support others, and seek out those who will support me. In the company of these kind people, I can recover, and give something back to those who are hurting and in need of an encouraging word. Criticism can defeat us, in many subtle ways, but encouragement can give us what we need to stand up, dust ourselves off, and never give up.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Ambition has always been a double-edged sword for me. I know we need it in order to be motivated to get ahead in life, but when it blindly surges ahead, chewing us up and spitting us out in its wake, it can hurt us badly. I have come to believe that it needs to be tempered by our value system in order to function in a healthy way.

We need to anchor our ambition so it doesn't lead us. We must lead it. In the same way that our emotions are under our control and not the other way around, our ambition is only a part of who we are. Identity is at the root. When we don't know ourselves, we are at the mercy of all of the parts of who we are, instead of mastering them.

I experienced this for many years. My personality felt fractured into many small pieces. I was a different personality for every group and situation I was in. I read the situation, to the best of my ability, and then molded myself to be what I thought was expected by others. I wanted to be loved and accepted, and it worked for awhile, until I realized that the person who was loved and accepted was not really me. It was a creation, a role, a pretend version of myself.

The process of getting real and unified within myself was perilous and frightening, with many mistakes made along the way. Most adolescents make the mistakes that I made in my thirties, but it's better to be late to the party than to never show up at all. Recognizing that I was supposed to be myself in all situations, without bowing to any outside pressure, was a brand new thought. Getting there was a non-linear process, filled with ups and downs and enough tears to fill an ocean, but the end result is so unbelievably satisfying that going back was never considered an option.

My ambition used to hamstring me before. It served as a yardstick that I beat myself with. All I saw was how far I had yet to go. Now that I am growing into maturity as my own person, and not contorting to be what others might expect, I see my ambition as under my own control. I can choose to be ambitious or to be lazy and it doesn't affect my value as a human being. I am still who I am, and my productivity is a piece of that puzzle, but not the whole thing.

This discovery is like having surgery to remove cataracts and realizing that trees have leaves, and buds, and flowers, and so much definition in the patterns on its bark. It is detail where before there was a formless void which I feared. It is control where before I was controlled. It is understanding and love and much loftier things than I could ever consider in my younger years. Simply put, it is freedom. And for freedom there is no acceptable substitute.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


"Change comes from a feeling of discontent." I heard this statement at a recent Rocky View School Division meeting I attended, and its been rolling around in my brain ever since. We don't tend to make significant changes when we are satisfied with our lives. It's when we have that stirring of disquiet, telling us we are bored, or on the wrong track - that niggling frustration that won't go away is what pushes us to change.

About a year ago I was talking to a friend who said she felt like something was missing in her life, but she had no idea what it was. I encouraged her to sit with the feeling of discontent, until it revealed itself and she knew what it was she should be doing. She seemed afraid of this feeling, but I've learned that it's the precursor to something new.

That's how I started writing again. I was going to bed after a full day with my husband, my kids, and my part-time job outside of the home, and feeling mildly discontent. When I finally took the time to analyze the feeling, I realized that I wanted to be writing, and I needed to make space for it. Setting a goal of three pages per day got me moving again in the direction that I desperately wanted to go in.

I didn't always hit my goal, but on the days when I did, that niggling voice was silenced. I felt fully satisfied at the end of the day, knowing I was slowly moving towards what I wanted to do instead of feeling stalled out and rudderless. I've come to see discontent as a blessing and not a curse. I am a person who would prefer safety to risk, but there is a time for both, and living life afraid of change is a useless exercise, because change finds us whether we want it to or not.

It's not a bad thing to sense boredom or frustration with the status quo in your life. Usually it precedes a period of turbulent change, and the end result of that is a new perspective, fresh energy and a renewed sense of purpose. We can't stay the same or we stagnate. Growth is the goal of our lives, and growing involves change and risk. There is no way to avoid it. Embrace it. Be open to how you feel as your emotions are trying to tell you something, like that pesky "check engine" light on your dash. If you will let it, your discontent will take you somewhere new, and quite possibly be the exact breakthrough you have been looking for.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Good Mom

This week I was in Wal-Mart with William, getting some groceries. It was all going well until we reached the check-out line. I began loading groceries onto the conveyor belt while he browsed the ridiculous selection of merchandise at a five year old's eye level, and when he walked over holding a $9.99 Toy Story flashlight, my heart sank an inch or so in my chest.

"I want this," he stated. "You have a lot of flashlights already," I replied. "No, not like this one," he argued, and from there it began to go swiftly downhill, in the way that these things often do. He began to cry and become more insistent that he needed this particular flashlight, as it had Buzz and Woody on it, and I was equally certain that spending $10 on a flashlight was not going to happen on this day and at this time.

When these situations have occurred in the past, I usually go through a series of steps: anger, embarrassment, frustration, threats and aggravation (not necessarily in that order). But this time, I took a deep breath, and thought about all that I have learned in my parenting course, and decided to try something new.

I told myself, in the calmest inner voice I have, that he was not trying to piss me off. He has an annoying habit of becoming fixated on something he wants, and letting that small thing dictate his mood and emotions (an area I also struggle with so he comes by it honestly), and I tried to come alongside of him and recognize that he was frustrated because he couldn't have what he wanted. I know what that feels like, and it doesn't feel great, so I decided to try empathy instead of authority.

I got down on one knee and gave him a hug. I spoke quietly into his ear about how I knew he wanted the flashlight, and it was a cool flashlight, and maybe when we got home we could write it down on a list for the next time he might receive a gift. He cried even harder, and louder, and said that I would forget to do that (and this was a valid concern). I stood up, found paper and a pen in my purse, and wrote it down.

At this point I was feeling quite proud of myself, and I was sure his crying would stop, but it didn't. It actually intensified as he began wailing about how someone else could buy the flashlight, and then it would be gone when it came time to buy him a present, and all of the other urgent concerns that feel critical to many five year olds and trivial to most adults.

For one of the first times ever, I worried less about what strangers might be thinking of me and my son, and I felt more concerned about the health and strength of my relationship with him. Our relationship should always be the higher priority, but I didn't recognize it before I began attending this Power to Parent course. The couple in front of me in the check-out line smiled at William, even though he was still crying, and then smiled at me.

"You're a good mom," the woman said to me. "You didn't give in, and you got down and talked to him, and I think you handled that really well." I almost bawled, right there in the harsh overhead light and cement floors of Wal-mart, at this kindness from a stranger. To not worry about what others thought of my son's meltdown over a flashlight was the first bonus, putting him ahead of my fears of being judged was the second, and to be told I was a good mom when he was still gently sobbing was the icing on the cake.

We can change how we do things at any given time. When we learn a new parenting skill, we can try it out wherever we find ourselves. It may work, and it may not, but I was so glad that I didn't squeeze his arm and resort to blunt force and threats like I've done many times in the past. This time I wanted to say no, and not worry so much about his tears of disappointment and frustration. I think we both grew and changed in that check-out line, and I'm grateful that it's never too late to achieve a better relationship dynamic.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I heard from a local screenplay competition this week which I entered months ago, and as there were only nineteen participants, I held out hope that I might be one of the three winners. As the announcement date approached, I began crafting all kinds of interesting scenarios in my mind about winning, and where that might take me in my dream to see my script sold and produced.

When I got the e-mail announcing the three winners, none of whom were me, I was really disappointed. Once again, I put the cart before the horse in my mind, and began to imagine something which wasn't a hard reality. It's an affliction which plagues me from time to time, and used to waste huge chunks of my time. I should know better than to set myself up for failure, but sometimes it's fun to nose ahead in our minds and plan for the best-case scenario.

For the last two years I've been more disciplined than I've ever been about actually writing more and daydreaming less. I've seen great success, and at least as much failure. I've slowly learned to develop a thicker skin, and to understand that with writing comes a lot of rejection, and I've tried to give myself time to build the dream I'm aiming for. It doesn't happen overnight. I don't need to rush it.

But then I get ahead of myself. And instead of being grateful for this contest, which rushed me through a significant re-write in order to enter, I expect to win and then feel like a failure, when I have the chance to look at it as another stepping stone on the way to where I'm going. The fantasy element of dreaming that it will all be worthwhile if someone else says my writing is good is giving away too much of myself.

If I believe in what I'm doing, I have to keep going, regardless of winning awards or not winning them. It's not the end of the world not to win. There are other contests, and other avenues to getting an agent and selling a screenplay. Perhaps more re-writes are required. Maybe I should get going on my next screenplay and leave this one for now. There are a lot of roads open to me at this point, but being discouraged and beating myself up is not one which offers a lot of benefits.

I'm learning to feel the disappointment, and then look for what I can take away from the situation. In this case, I spent too much time hoping that with such low numbers in the contest, I could win, when in reality, if my screenplay is good enough to be sold it doesn't matter how many people are in a contest. I need to go on from here, and try again, and recognize that along this writing road there are many detours and setbacks, and also many wonderful moments, and you can't get one without the other.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I just finished You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, a memoir by Heather Sellers. She grew up with a mentally ill mother, and an alcoholic father, and writes with such honesty and love. I found inspiration and identification on every page. I started the book and I simply couldn't do anything else until I finished it. I could feel myself healing as I turned each page, and for the profound experience of reading and mending my torn heart in the process, I am deeply grateful to Heather.

One of the lines which jumped off the page at me was when she was in her counselor's office, and he said, "You don't have to have clarity to take a clear position." He was explaining that when we become adults, we must leave our child self in the backseat of the car and take away the keys. As children, we want to please our parents, and make sure that they are never unhappy with us. As adults, we have to take responsibility of our own lives, and drive the car, and make decisions which can be difficult but help us define and hold our boundaries.

Having just lived this process, I understood exactly what the counselor was saying. It never gets easier to keep the child in the backseat and become the responsible adult, but it radically alters the way you live your life. The clarity tends to come much later, after we have taken a position. It's almost always uncomfortable to do this, but the reward is growing up, and being adult in the way we make decisions and accept our consequences.

I wanted everything black and white before this year. I longed to understand with my mind, and have things make sense to me. I'm learning that most of the time it doesn't make sense, and that feeling is a process quite separate from the mind. Going around the logical often shows us the way, if we will be brave enough to fumble around in the dark. The understanding dawns after the decision is made, and it's not always a linear process.

The feeling work is the hardest part, as it guts you like a fish, from the inside out. You still have to function in the world, smiling and saying, "How are you?" when inside you are bleeding where no one can see. But the end result is maturity, and clarity, and learning to live as yourself without so many hard defenses in place. I've been digging around in my psyche, trying to free that sensitive little girl who lives inside me, and letting her cry her tears and heal from what went wrong so many years ago.

We don't have to understand in order to proceed, and make better decisions as adults. Becoming real, and communicating as clearly as I can with people in my life has caused some initial collateral damage which has been intensely painful to manage, but it has also liberated me from always having to please other people. Now I please myself a little more. I protect the new vulnerabilities struggling to grow in the fresh soil of my heart.

I am learning to honour this process in my children. To invite them to exist in my presence, as who they really are and not who I would like them to be. They are flawed, and beautiful, and works in progress, just like I am. I don't want them to become hard and safe. I want them to be raw, and themselves, and to keep growing and being honest, even when it hurts a lot. Clarity might not be there initially, but you can still take a clear position, and trust that it will find you when you are ready to understand.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In God's Hands

I'm trying to conquer my fear of flying. I started by connecting it back to when it began, and recognizing the feelings around the fear. That helped, but booking flights to Mexico this fall brought me face to face again with why I'm afraid. My stomach began churning, and my palms felt itchy, and my breathing was tight and tense. I repeatedly stated to myself that I must control my fear instead of being controlled by it.

Our brains are wired to protect us when we sense danger, but long after the danger has passed, we end up with protective measures in place that might not be appropriate any longer. A lot of my fears stem from childhood, so they are well entrenched in my system, and I am not remotely the same person now that I was then.

Trying to look at it objectively has helped me. I need to separate out the feelings from the situation, and understand that I can re-train my brain to think differently about specific threats. As I gain more skills, and learn to live in the light instead of the shadows, my fight-or-flight instincts can become healthier and more appropriate to the situations I find myself in.

I don't want to allow my irrational fears to stop me from traveling with my family. I want to enjoy a vacation and be able to anticipate it without the fear of the plane trip getting in my way. Eventually I hope to do book tours and fly to LA for script meetings and go to movie premieres and I must be able to board a flight and feel calm and happy about my trips. I don't want to grit my teeth and try to make it through. I think it can be better than that.

As my pastor makes his way through his series about death and resurrection, I'm learning to trust that whether I am alive or dead, I am in God's hands. The same understanding applies to all situations which have fear and anxiety as part of them: whether I am on a plane or not, I am in God's hands. Whether I am healthy or sick, I am in God's hands. Faith doesn't mean much until it comes up against that place of hardship and strain. It's easy to believe when life is good, and much harder when it hurts and we feel rubbed raw.

I don't know exactly how to re-train my brain, other than to change the way I label myself. Instead of saying, "I'm afraid of turbulence when I'm on a plane," I can say, "I like to fly and go on vacation with my family." I can think of myself as a confident flier instead of an anxious one. And failing all of that, I can get pills designed to relax me and take them if I need them. The longer I hide from this and try to avoid plane travel, the deeper my fear gets a foothold. I want to be bigger and stronger than my fear. It is an extension of me, but it is not me.

I prayed and asked God to help me. I asked for peace and I found it, deep inside, when I unclenched my fist and surrendered my control issues yet again. If I am always in God's hands, then it matters not whether I am on a plane or on the ground. I either believe that he can take care of me or he can't. I want to find peace and joy in all of my pursuits. When it's missing, I can slow down and ask for direction. We didn't book these tickets until I felt like it was the right thing to do. The fear is not gone, but the peace is there, and I have to believe that the peace can outweigh the anxiety. No matter what, I am in God's hands.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Just Because I Can

This thought crossed my brain when I was trying to fall asleep the other night, and the weight of what I had to do was crowding out my ability to relax: "Just because I can do something, doesn't mean I have to." Thankfully, I didn't pontificate too long on this idea, and quieted down enough to go to sleep, shelving that thought for another time.

I am a hyper-organized person. I've always been this way. I'm seeing now that my control-freak nature is a direct result of my attempt to control chaos as a child, and so I'm looking at ways to keep what's good and dump what is compulsive and unhealthy. Being honest with myself and examining why I do what I do is helping me slowly weed out the good from the bad. Just because I have the skills to do something doesn't mean I have to do it. That's where my mind is supposed to overrule my intentions to be sure I'm doing things that make sense at the time.

We all want to give of ourselves to help others. Especially when we have abilities in certain areas. But when we take on too much and become burnt out, we are putting the cart before the horse and not taking care of ourselves. Many women struggle with this, especially when our giving begins to define our worth, and we don't dare fall behind in case we are considered worthless in some way.

We are not what we give and what we do. We are valuable for who we are, not for our contributions. What we give flows out of who we are, and the contribution is better all around when we are rested, well fed, and secure in ourselves. When we give from this place, we feel stronger and more sure of ourselves, instead of weak and overwhelmed. It's the "put your own oxygen mask on first and then help someone else" philosophy. Fill up your own tank, take care of yourself, and you will be able to make better decisions about how to give to others without bleeding yourself dry.

I believe this in theory, but putting it into practice is very new and frightening for me. I still fear being judged by others (and myself) for not doing enough. I don't want to be selfish, but I also get tired of burning myself out, particularly on things I don't necessarily enjoy doing but feel pressured into. I know I don't have to love everything I do, but once you get a taste of doing what you love, everything else tastes a little bitter, and you want to maximize the sweet taste and limit what doesn't bring you joy.

Like anything, it's a balance. We are always searching for that balance which makes our lives feel full and satisfying, without being stressful or overwhelming. You get something working right and another area falls apart. That's what life looks like most of the time. But I have to believe that awareness is the first step to anything improving, and becoming more conscious of the fact that I can say no, even if I'm technically able to do what is being asked of me, will help me in the long run.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


This week at the Power to Parent DVD course I'm attending (and loving), Dr. Gordon Neufeld explained a concept called counterwill, which is a natural instinct that every person possesses and it flares up as a defensive reaction to any perceived coercion. No one wants to be forced to do anything against their will. We are wired as humans to resist when we feel that someone is exerting the strength of their own will over ours, and the resulting friction is called counterwill.

Understanding this concept felt like recognizing something that I've always known to be true but had no words to define it before. I heard him speak about it, and I saw myself, and my kids, and my husband, and every relationship I've ever been a part of, and I said, "That's what it's called." He did a beautiful job of defining it.

In terms of parenting, he said that counterwill happens when the outside pressure imposed on the child is greater than the child's pursuit of proximity. In other words, when the child feels connected and attached to his or her parent, counterwill tends to be weaker, and the opposite is also true. When the relationship isn't working well, coercion and force tend to be present (and this is true for all relationships, not simply parents and children) and generally speaking, it backfires. Counterwill exists to be sure we are doing things we want to, and not what we feel we have to.

If the connection between people is functioning well, the need for coercion is not necessary, so the power to influence in a positive way is very strong. Influence always trumps coercion. No one likes to do something they are commanded to do, but if we are invited, and we have a choice to say yes or no and not be punished for it, we have the freedom to respond from our hearts and tend to feel happier about it.

For children, this is especially important, because unlike adults, kids have virtually no power in the relationship. They are given commands all day long, and counterwill shows itself as their only defense mechanism. We say, "Hurry up" and they slow down. We yell, "Clean up this dump of a room" and they cry and refuse and only when they feel the relationship is threatened will they sullenly begin to do the job.

I was always fighting with my kids, particularly Ava, to clean their rooms. After learning about counterwill, I tried a different tactic. I said, "I would like you to clean your room, but I understand that it's not as important to you as it is to me. I know I don't like to be told what to do, and yelled at about something, and I'm sorry for all of the times I've done that to you. I would like you to think about how you feel when you spend time in a clean room instead of a messy one, and decide if you want to clean it up or leave it like it is."

I closed her door and walked away, and had absolutely no idea what would happen, but I felt satisfied that we stayed away from our usual dance (I yell, she cries, I threaten to come in with a garbage bag and throw everything in the garbage, she finally acquiesces but is miserable about doing the job). Realizing what counterwill is there for, and how to work around it to get a better win-win result where no one feels intense pressure, really helped me to keep the emotion out of the issue, state what I wanted, and give her a choice.

Fifteen minutes later she came out with a big smile on her face, and asked all of us to come and see her room. It was by far the best cleaning job she had ever done to this point, and she was happy about it. An hour later she was reading on her bed and she called out, "Mom, I do like how nice my room is when it's clean." Talk about a one hundred and eighty degree difference, and it all came from phrasing my request better, so she felt part of the solution, and not dictated to.

Dr. Neufeld said that counterwill is a reactive instinct, not "on purpose". A child is not pushing our buttons to drive us up the wall, but instead the child's buttons are being pushed as a reaction to being ordered around outside of the context of connection in the relationship. If we decrease coercion or increase attachment, we can counteract the effects of counterwill.

He talked about a toddler ride which goes endlessly in a circle, but the toddler feels involved when they are turning the steering wheel. It's important to help kids feel like they are driving sometimes, and come alongside of them to support instead of direct. I'm looking forward to finding more ways to defuse counterwill by altering the way I ask for things, and thinking of how my kids feel when I order them around, and making changes accordingly.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

All I Need

I know that all I need is who I am in order to make it through this maze of life. I can feel this statement as true in the bottom of my soul. It's just that it becomes muddied up by all of the other things I feel I need in order to compete with others, or to get ahead, or to win in some nameless, faceless competition. I really only need myself, and if I develop who I am to the best of my ability, I have the chance to do anything at all.

I don't know why we end up limiting ourselves. So much of what we need to be successful lies dormant inside of us, and if we will get past the "I can'ts" to the "Why not's?" we will be home free. I was missing out on my own confidence until about eighteen months ago, when I began to move past my lifelong fear of making a mistake. Until we are willing to accept that we can't be perfect, it's very challenging to try anything new.

Failure is linked to success. You don't get one without the other. And persistence is a necessary ingredient to the recipe for getting where you want to go. I always had the dream portion, but the confidence that I could try for it was slow to develop. I would like to see the confidence level higher for my kids when they launch into adulthood. I was exceptionally good at faking my way through, but the unacknowledged anxiety I felt deep inside was crippling me and holding me back.

What we need to move forward exists inside of us, if we can dig our way through the layers of falsehoods we've told ourselves or been told by others in order to find it. We are our own answer. Who I am is different from who you are, and where the difference is lies our greatest strengths.

Our individual natures sets us apart from each other, and in theory, is what should mean we aren't competing directly with each other. Particularly as creatives, because my ideas will never be the same as your ideas, and as I recently told the Grade Three's when they were preparing to write their Provincial Achievement Test, "Don't steal someone else's idea because you think it's better than yours. You are the only one who can tell your story. Your idea holds value to you, and only to you."

I didn't understand this idea before. I was always so concerned about what other people were doing, and worrying that I was being left behind. But now I know that I need to work on developing who I am, my own unique brand of personality, because that will be my greatest strength as a writer, and have a delicious by-product of helping me to enjoy life to its fullest. All I need is who I am. I want to stop looking to the left and to the right, and simply look inside to see what I need to do there in order to succeed.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Rainy Day

I love a rainy day. Here in Southern Alberta, we have mostly sunny days, and I certainly don't miss the endless grey skies and falling rain of the greater Vancouver area, but once in awhile, when it rains here, I find it refreshing to my soul. Everything smells good, and new, and it's as though the dust that has been collecting in my heart gets washed away.

Rain makes me reflect. Sometimes it becomes a sad thing, and other times I feel grateful for what I've been blessed with, but I always slow down a bit and think instead of keeping busy like a rat on a wheel. Yesterday, we had this kind of a day, and I felt overwhelmed with all kinds of emotion. Like the rain, it was better when the storm had passed, and I could see clearly more of the beauty that is all around me.

Most of what we experience is related to our perspective. How we feel about something informs the way it happens to us. Becoming more honest about my emotions has opened up an entirely new corner of the world to me. I realize that I was closed off for so long, mostly to myself but also to others, because I was trying to make my feelings fit into a neat category which I could control and close the lid on. Our emotions are not neat and easy. They are messy and riveting and need us to loosen the reins so they can take us where we need to go.

Feeling deeply is like a journey into a foreign country where nothing feels safe or familiar. It's a grand adventure, if we are brave enough to step out and take the risk. I controlled my feelings for most of my life because that was what I did in childhood in order to feel secure. I didn't have a road map for any other kind of self expression. I did what felt like it would be the most acceptable.

Now that I am in my late thirties, I recognize that I can take as many risks as I want, with my emotions and my actions. I can own who I am, and what I do, in a way that I couldn't when I was younger. I can change the way I once viewed my abilities and feelings, and I can accept that a lot of this life is outside of the realm of my control. That idea doesn't terrify me anymore. I would rather leave my facade of control behind, and put on my big-girl pants to face the world and be more realistic and honest about my fears and limitations.

It felt damn good to reflect on this during the rain yesterday. I felt sad, for no apparent reason, and when I let the tears fall without working so hard to solve the puzzle, I found it solved itself when the negative energy was burned away. The tears ended, and the sadness went with it, and I felt peaceful.

I hadn't learned any huge lesson, but I also didn't try to pretend I was happy when I wasn't. I let it be what it was, and when my emotions ran their course, the work of cleansing my soul was momentarily accomplished. The soil of my heart was moist again, like the dirt outside in my yard, and there is a chance that some flowers can grow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Make it All Work

When we are tired, everything seems unmanageable and just a little bit worse than when we are well-rested. Becoming overloaded and stressed happens quickly; one day we are okay, and one day we are not, and it's hard to see when it became too much. Keeping my schedule under control and making sure I'm not too busy is my responsibility, and when I give that power away to others or I feel guilty and do more than I should be doing, I'm the one that needs to take the reins back to my own life.

As women, we tend to take on too much, and try to be helpful in too many different directions, and before we know it, we are burning out. There has to be downtime built in or we end up going when we should be stopping, coasting in on fumes and suddenly we realize we have nothing left to give. I hate it when I allow this process to reach its end point and don't figure out somewhere in the middle that I am doing too much.

I need a radar system which warns me when my schedule is too full and I am too busy and stressed. A kind of "check engine" light which blinks on my internal dashboard so I know I need to slow down before I'm exhausted. We can build this into our mechanical devices, so why don't we have it for our schedules? I know that my boundaries are supposed to protect me, and they do when they are working properly. But it only takes a few small exceptions to add up to a big hole in the boundary wall, and next thing I know, I'm overloaded and desperately bailing out water so I don't drown.

I wonder why it's so hard to learn this lesson. Perhaps it's because some of us are wired to take on too much. I know I also feel good when people think I am well organized and can manage a lot of tasks at once. We never do anything unless we are getting something from it, healthy or otherwise. But living my life to please others is an old coping mechanism and not part of my new belief system, so I must do an honest scan of my life from time to time and see what is working well and what needs to be improved.

I want more time to write. I also enjoy volunteering in my community and spending these last precious days with William before he goes to kindergarten. As is the case for every person, there are only so many hours in each day. We must all make decisions about how we spend our time, and live with the consequences. When something is broken, it must be fixed. And when it's working well, we have to protect it from outside forces.

It never stops being a balancing act. We want to give to others, but also take time for ourselves to accomplish what we need to get done in a day. We want to relax, but also to produce something. We want to model a healthy lifestyle for our kids, and be honest about what we can realistically do in any given time frame. The good news is, there is always more time to tinker in our lives and try again to get it right. The sun will rise tomorrow, and we will all get another chance to do the very best we can to make it all work.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mental Health

Every now and again, I worry about developing a mental illness like my father. By his mid to late thirties, he was revealing the seeds which had been planted much earlier, and eventually bloomed into his bi-polar disorder. When I'm under stress I feel more acutely concerned about it. I know these things are hereditary, and I know that if the seeds are buried in me, I will eventually have to manage it, but I hope and pray with each passing year that I will escape this particular legacy.

We all want to be healthy, in our minds and our bodies, and we don't want to be labeled as crazy. We don't want to lose control. Our minds control our decisions, and therefore the quality of our lives. I want to stay in control. I want to own my memories and not lose touch with what I consider some of the best parts of myself.

Having seen my dad go from a broken person who could manage his life to someone who was paranoid, and difficult, and wildly erratic in his moods and behaviours, I know that mental health should never be taken for granted. It is a gift, each and every day that we have it, and is often underappreciated. Getting in touch with my own emotions this year has brought these mental illness fears to the light, but it has also helped me see how much I have to be grateful for.

We have no guarantees in this life. There are illnesses which could lurk inside of us at any time, and then there are the ones that can attack us when we least expect them. I don't want to live my life in fear. I would prefer to believe that God is good, and is near to all of those who call on him, and that he will get me through whatever I will face in this life. Sometimes it's easier to hold that line of faith-reasoning than others.

When I look at my kids, and hug them close to me, I want to be the best version of their mother that I can possibly be. I want to give them all of me: my strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and strengths. I don't want to hide or mask who I am from them, but I also want to be in control of my mind and my feelings. I don't want to be controlled by outside sources like mental illness or fear or worrying about what other people think of me.

I want to live from the inside out. That's what I've been learning to do, and I know it's the way I want to continue to grow. Fake is out and real is in. My fears on this particular subject of mental health will have to take a backseat to faith in God that whatever happens, I will manage it to the best of my ability, and where I can't manage, I will reach out for help.

We don't have to do this life completely on our own. We have God, and support systems of friends and family to be sure we are not abandoned and left to our own devices. None of us would go very far if that was the case. We all need each other, and that gives me comfort when I am worried about what I can't control.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


First off, I would like to announce the winner of my blog book giveaway, so with no further ado, the winner is Amy H! I will contact you to ask if you would like a pdf or e-pub version for an e-reader or if you would prefer a print book, and then I will arrange getting it to you! Thanks to everyone who is following and spreading the word about my blog to your friends and family. It means so much to have such faithful readers. Many thanks to each one of you. Now back to the blog post for today:

I used to be a big complainer. I would get riled up over the smallest thing and feel free to tell everyone I know about my frustration. As I approach the mid-point of my life, I'm recognizing slowly how ineffective complaining is, when there I don't offer a solution to the problem I'm concerned about. On all of the committees I'm a part of, I've discovered a sure-fire way to stop complaining, and it works so well that I wanted to share it with all of you.

When someone identifies a problem and does not offer a solution, I suggest that they be in charge of fixing it. As an example, at an event I recently coordinated, someone complained about inadequate signage, and I said, "Perfect. Next year you can take on the signs and make sure they work better than they did this year."

Generally the person slinks away and is never heard from again, because working isn't what they had in mind. It is much easier to point out a problem than it is to actively work toward a solution. If you put someone in charge of what they are complaining about, then they really do have to put up or shut up, not to put too fine a point on it. Or at the very least, they stop voicing their loud displeasure so the atmosphere becomes more pleasant.

There are always ways to improve everything. The catch is that most of them require effort, or money, or time that most people don't want to give. And so we complain, because it's easier. But I find that the negative energy generated by a lot of complaints becomes so deafening that it's all anyone can hear, and it takes good moods and pops a hole in them, so everyone feels deflated and defeated.

Positivity is much harder to maintain, particularly in a group setting, but is the only thing that brings forward positive change. Sometimes we hear a lot of positive comments, and we feel wonderful, and then one person tells you what was wrong with the group or the event, and we end up fixating on that and all of the good things simply fade away.

I know that I'm in charge of my own attitude, and that I can choose to be positive or negative, regardless of what is happening around me. It's just that sometimes the complaining gets you down. At the school division meeting I was at last week, this question was raised: "If it takes a village to raise a child, what is your contribution?"

I loved that. It puts the responsibility back on each of us to step forward and give something of ourselves to educate our kids. We all have something to give, and ideas to make things better, and if we jump in with both feet, there is a chance for all of us to effect change.

It's easy to complain. It's hard to get involved. But the benefits of being involved are huge, compared to the "armchair critic" role which keeps you protected from being criticized yourself, but doesn't do anything but mire you in your own negative complaint cycle. All of us have something we can give.

Step forward and try something new today. If you see a chance to improve something, take it and run with it. You never know what will happen, but just maybe, you'll make a positive difference to a person or an organization that could last a lifetime.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Frustration Traffic Circle

Last night Ava was in tears about her aunt and uncle leaving in a day to return to BC. They were here over the weekend and we've had lots of fun making memories with them on this trip. Ava was so sad at the idea of them going home, and I held her while she cried her tears. I thought about how I used to cry when my Granny left our house, or when we left hers, as I always felt the loss of her presence so deeply.

In the parenting course I'm in, we have been talking about how tears are healthy, and when you don't have tears, you end up with aggression. Dr. Gordon Neufeld described it as a traffic circle, where you enter as soon as you feel frustrated (he made the point that aggression is not anger, as we sometimes identify it, but instead frustration which doesn't end in tears), and you can exit the frustration if you can change the situation, but if you can't, you have to adapt.

Before you can adapt, you must reach the still point, realizing that you aren't going to get what you want, and that sometimes life isn't fair, and that is the moment where you recognize that your struggle is futile. All of that frustration energy has to go somewhere, and the healthiest place for it to go is in tears. Then you accept that you couldn't change the situation, so you must adapt to it.

If you don't feel safe to cry, or you don't reach the point of stillness and acceptance, then you tend to turn that frustration energy into aggression, and exit the traffic circle by attacking, either in words or with your body. Seeing this picture of the traffic circle, and understanding that I have the same process, over and over again when I am frustrated, really rang true for me.

I see this in my kids, and in myself, and I believe it to be true for everyone. I cried all of the time as a child, and was deeply connected to my emotions, but over time, as an adult, I learned to cover most of that up, and found William's raw vulnerability challenging to deal with. Ava learned by about age five or six to pretend that she was fine when she was actually upset. At first, I was proud of this defensive maneuver, but I'm learning in this class that tears are the best way to release this kind of energy without hurting anyone else.

In getting away from our vulnerabilities, we have shut down some of the best parts of ourselves. We need our feelings. Soft hearts mean caring and loving people. Hard hearts won't change the world. Soft hearts can change and grow, and I love that Ava has been slowly getting back to her vulnerabilities, in the same way that I have been digging through the hard earth to reach mine. Dr. Neufeld said, "You must feel the pain of what you cannot change."

While holding Ava last night, her body shaking with tears, I hurt for her, but I also rejoiced in the depth of her emotion, because when she reached the still point, she drew a shuddering breath, and accepted that they had to go home soon. It was good that they came, and it will hurt when they go, but better to love them so deeply that it does hurt. That's how you know you are alive, and able to experience the full range of feelings that are available to human beings, and ensure that you remain tender and open to caring and loving to the best of your ability.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Loving One Another

I recently stumbled across this fabulous quote from Greg Boyd, who blogs at Christus Victor Ministries, "...I honestly don’t believe we’ll even begin to move in the right direction until we resolve that loving one another (and everyone else) is a higher priority than proving, protecting and enforcing the rightness of our doctrines." This encapsulates what I have learned over the past few years, and believe somewhere deep at the bottom of my soul. Love trumps doctrine, every time, all the time.

Doctrine is about who is right and who is not. It always divides. That is why there are about a million (I'm not actually certain of the correct number) different denominations in any type of faith group. Everyone decides what they believe and what they don't believe, and they draw lines accordingly. It might feel good at the time to assert that you have the corner on truth and that everyone else is wrong, but that certainty doesn't usually last. I'm very glad it didn't last for me.

Now I know that love is the key which unlocks every door, both in my own heart and in the rest of the world. When we begin to love others the way we have been loved by God, all kinds of things are possible that you couldn't even conceive of before, like forgiveness, grace and understanding. I definitely don't like what a lot of people do to me or to others, but I can separate myself from the situation a little easier and extend more mercy than I've ever been able to in the past.

With love leading the way instead of doctrine, I can give more and expect less. I don't feel as diminished or affronted as I used to. I don't have to prove anything to myself or others. Love is much simpler, and much harder, because it goes beyond argument. It's not about right and wrong. It covers over all of that, like a blanket on an icy cold day. It offers comfort, and understanding; a soft place to land in the hard, cynical world in which we live.

I love the freedom which came when I understood that I didn't have to convince anyone of anything. All I have to do is love, to the best of my ability, and true love really does cast out fear. I don't need to argue with people about what I believe. It doesn't matter to me if they agree or disagree, as long as I have done my best to love them. It sounds simple to type it, but it is not easy, for I have failed to love, again and again, but there is comfort in leaving my doctrine by the side of the road and walking away from it.

Jesus said in Matthew 25, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." When his disciples asked when they had done that for him, he replied, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

That is love in action. That is what I want my life to look like. I don't want to be right. I want to love. That is the higher priority, and it is the only thing that can change the world. Love is the answer for hate. It is possible to love instead of being right. Like everything, it is a choice, every single day, as to what course of action we will take. I'm grateful to Greg Boyd for making it so simple and easy to remember. I'm going to keep his quote front and centre from this point forward.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Not Alone

Recently I touched base with a friend I've known for most of my adult life but lost connection with when we moved to Alberta four and a half years ago. She emailed me after reading a few blog posts which resonated with her, and we got talking about our kids, and she expressed relief that I was willing to share some of Ava's fears as she found similarities with one of her children in reading what we were going through.

She said she felt less alone, knowing that someone else was struggling with some of the same things. I loved the chance to reassure her that her child was fine, and she was doing well as a mother, and that beating ourselves up because our kids are not the same as other kids is a useless exercise.

Our kids are our own, and we know them like no one else does. If we offer them an invitation to exist in our presence, with all of their strengths and weaknesses on display, we can build up their confidence instead of tearing it down. It benefits everyone to be encouraged and supported. It works to advance positivity and happiness in a way that nothing else can touch. I want my kids to go into the world as adults knowing this in their bones.

We all have so much to give to each other. A kind word, a compliment, a sense of "I've been where you are and lived to tell the tale" can radically alter the course of a person's day. It's more than simply paying it forward. It's a choice, each and every day, to contribute to the negative gossip you hear, or to rise above it and try to say something nice instead of hurtful.

I'm honoured that my friend reached out to me. I'm thrilled that she identified with something I've struggled with, and that it made her feel better instead of worse to share her own concerns and hear that she is doing just fine, and that her child is okay too. We all need permission from others every now and again, as it shores up our own confidence to have someone affirm the job we are doing.

Mothering can be very lonely, especially when you feel judged by others. Reach out to someone else, giving what you can from your own experience, to help them in their journey. It helps you know that you are not alone. Once the connection is made, both of you will be further along than you were before, and life filled with community is better than feeling isolated.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Find What We're Looking For

In an ideal world, we would all feel free to pursue our dreams and passions without anyone or anything getting in our way. We would all be able to support each other, without petty jealousies or competitive instincts edging in on our relationships. We could find what we are looking for and not feel guilty, or worried about what others might think, or hampered by our own low confidence or inabilities.

Sadly, we don't live in this kind of utopia. But I like to squint, far into the distant horizon, and imagine I can see it. A place where my fears and brokenness don't stop someone else from pursuing their highest self. Where I can encourage anyone, for any reason, with absolute integrity and not feel like I am losing something of myself in the process. And where this kind of support and love comes back to me.

I don't know if there is any real chance of living this way in my lifetime, but I'm going to put it in front of me as a goal to aspire toward. I like to think that as I get healthier within myself, and more confident in my own abilities, I might be able to practice being happy for others when they pursue what they want in this lifetime. We all have different goals, abilities and interests. It shouldn't take anything from me to see someone else succeed, and would in fact make the world a better place.

There are just so many things that get in our own way. Sometimes the other person's goals are too similar to ours, and natural competition ensues. Other times, we worry that we are not as successful as someone else, and we don't want to be left behind, and so we withdraw our support or talk negatively to others so we feel better about ourselves. I'm tired of being insecure and measuring myself by the achievements of others. No one wins in these comparisons.

I want to be honest about my feelings, but move toward the idea that everyone has a niche and a place they can carve out for themselves. Someone else's success or failure does not have to change what I am doing in this life. I teach my kids to get along with others, to the best of their ability, and to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. It seems to be human nature to find the mourning easier than the rejoicing, but both are equally important. There is enough room for us all to find what we are looking for, and to encourage each other along the way.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Rustling Back to Life

Its been hot this week, for the first time in what feels like forever, and it's fun to sit outside and hear the neighbourhood rustling back to life. Music drifts from one house into the warm air, patio doors open and close and disgorge family members into the sun, and the laughter of kids rings out from yard to yard. It feels like summer, and immediately lifts the spirits.

Of course, when I invite my kids to come outside and play, they generally decline. This is why we originally took up camping a few summers ago, because we needed to force our hothouse plant children into the open air. William will play outside provided he has a good reason (and there are no bugs or trains or barking dogs to terrify him) and can find a friend to run around with, but Ava needs a lot of convincing.

Until the last few years, I was similar in my outlook, so it's difficult for me to be too hard on her, but Jason is an outdoorsy guy, and is baffled by his family's preference to be inside. I'm learning to appreciate nature and enjoy the sun and the wind and the robin's egg blue of the sky more than I have in the past, but like everything, it is a work in progress.

I hope it's not too late for my kids to enjoy nature a little more. Part of the magic of childhood is unplugging from the slavery of our various electronic devices and immersing ourselves in the joys of nature. The ticklish feel of grass under our bare feet, the sound of a distant lawnmower, the vividness of the colours we see, and the smell of smoke from a bonfire or a barbeque; all of these can combine to create some delicious memories, provided we notice what is going on around us.

This year I'm determined to be present in my outdoor surroundings. I want to rustle back to life as my neighbours have, and bring my mood into line with the joys of what nature is offering me. It's all there, right in front of me, provided I will unplug and go to be part of it. There is more to life than simple productivity. There are things which nurture the soul, and need to be discovered in an unhurried manner, and savoured to be remembered to the fullest.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blog Book Giveaway

First off, an apology for how long it has taken me to get organized to give away a blog book, but I think I can finally draw from my blog followers and give one away as a thank you. I have printed books and also pdf digital copies, so the winner can choose which one they would like. If you have been reading regularly, but haven't created a Google account to follow, please do so before Monday, May 16th, when I will do the draw and announce the winner on the 17th.

Thank you for reading, from the bottom of my heart. For something which began as a six week experiment in January 2010, it has completely changed my life. Noticing the small details of life, and paying closer attention to my feelings and experiences, has not only given me the confidence to pursue my writing career with reckless abandon, but it has also changed me completely as a person.

I've been reading through my printed blog book, revisiting posts from more than a year ago, and I'm struck by the thoughts and ideas I was working through, as they are remarkably similar to where I am now. It's almost as if I was forecasting what was coming in experience, by thinking of it philosophically first. An idea is great, but living through it is what changes you permanently. I needed to consider it first, and then walk it out, crying about a zillion tears, and doing the hard work of changing myself from the inside out.

Confidence is important in this life. If we don't believe it, we won't be able to achieve it, but confidence comes when you change the way you view yourself. So much of our lives are unconscious, inaccessible even to ourselves, until we stand up and pay attention to our feelings, for emotions are the key to unlocking our deepest dreams and desires. I didn't have much emotional honesty before this year. I pretended to feel something which I believed was acceptable to others, but I wasn't using my feelings as the radar system they are meant to be.

When I began owning my anger, or joy, or deep sadness, and not burying or re-labeling it to something easier to manage, I began to change. The kind that hurts worse than anything you've ever experienced before (including childbirth, at least for me), because I had to re-learn how to exist in this world without all of my carefully constructed armour protecting me.

Vulnerability is one of the most beautiful gifts we have, but I had kicked mine into the dirt, and tried to distance myself from it. Now I hold it close, and protect it, and look for ways to let it out into the light, for it has opened me up to a whole world of possibilities that I didn't know existed before. Being vulnerable equals being real to me. And between real and pretend there is no choice, because one is like gold and the other like a plastic child's toy, which will never stand the test of time.

Plumbing the deepest depths of my heart in order to write here each day has taken the person I was before and transformed her to someone stronger, and braver, and better able to pursue her dreams without fear. Gratitude is too small of a word to describe how glad I am to have begun this six week experiment, which turned into a seventeen month one, and is still going. I couldn't have done it without the support and feedback from my readers. Hearing from you has built me up when I was feeling torn down, and given me what I needed to carry on when the emotional carnage seemed too much to face.

I'm so grateful. Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing my blog with others, and for baring your heart to me in your comments and through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail correspondence. You have walked this road with me, and been witnesses to the change that has occurred in me, and is possible for any of us at any time, if we will recognize that we have room to grow and improve. I'll draw for a blog book winner on May 16th and announce the winner on May 17th. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Forest for the Trees

Every now and again I have to remind myself that I'm not responsible for what other people think of me. I can only control myself: my actions, reactions and thoughts. How others perceive me is out of my control. I used to obsess for hours about what I might have done to offend someone or read into every small comment or sideways look, and I'm really trying not to do that anymore.

Negativity is like a downward vortex. It pulls us, against all our better judgement, into a sinkhole. My mood gets dark, like storm clouds developing over the mountains, and before I know it, I can't focus on anything but the distant worry of what others might be thinking. It's a useless exercise. This whole season of my life has been about boundaries, and understanding that not everyone needs to like me, and building up my own self-confidence.

It becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees when we get caught up in worry. Small things can become large problems, and if I will take the time to stop my negative spiral, I have a chance of reiterating why I'm doing what I'm doing. Sometimes I need to sell myself on my own intentions.

Doing what is best for us can have very painful personal consequences. I've learned that the hard way, but the only way to change is to really do things differently. There is an element of wrestling with our deepest fears, and beating what we told ourselves we could never do, and we can't expect that to be easy.

I know for sure that I don't want to give away all of my personal power anymore. I don't want to worry about what I cannot control, and I have to rein in my thoughts when they turn against me. I end up waging war against myself, instead of being kind and gentle to my wounded spirit. No one can beat me up as well as I can do it to myself, but I'm trying to stop the negative self talk. I get much further ahead when I am kind to myself.

Seeing the bigger picture matters when we are mired down in the day-to-day. There are many things I can't control, and I must surrender my need to control them. I must focus on who I am, and what I believe, and affirm my own values to myself. I have to take responsibility for who I am, and not for the way others may perceive me. And I don't have to get it right all of the time. If I make mistakes, I can say, "I'm sorry" and move on from there.

I wish relationships were simpler. I would like to write a script for some of my interactions, and cue the sappy music, and bring reconciliation and wholeness to areas that are damaged and broken. But I'm not in charge of both sides of relationship, and I must learn to open up my clenched fist and let go. That's what a lot of this growth has been about, and I don't want to lose the ground I have already gained, but that doesn't stop me from wishing it was easier to get where I am trying to go.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Go Deeper

I read an interview in Writer's Digest this week with best-selling author Pat Conroy, and his top advice to writers was "go deeper". This resonated with me, but I'm only now coming to an understanding of how much bravery is required to dig deep within ourselves to write about what we believe and feel as truth. It's certainly not popular with everyone, but I've been learning to be okay with not making others happy. I'm writing now to satisfy myself, in a way that I simply wasn't able to before, and the emotional depths I've reached have encouraged me to go deeper.

I know that there is a place for surface chatter in our lives, but after a series of recent lay-your-soul-bare conversations with a friend, I find the "hi, how are things?" chats so frivolous by comparison. I know we can't always go deep in all of our relationships all of the time, as that would be exhausting, but it's a bit like fast food compared to a gourmet meal. One is quick and efficient and empty calories, and the other is an experience to be savoured and enjoyed, and the memory stays with you for a longer period of time.

Perhaps the answer is to have a good mix of both. Not everyone is comfortable going deep into their emotions in a discussion and I must respect that. I think I've always hungered for this connection with others, and have been disappointed when I can't reach it or sustain it with people. I used to think something was wrong with me, but now I see it differently.

The meat of this life is found in the deepest layers of our human experience, and sharing that with someone is a beautiful thing. Where I find it, I treasure the relationship, and where it doesn't exist, I have to accept that too. There is no substitute for a true heart connection with someone, and the best way I know to get there is to bravely face my own emotions and simply dive in.

I don't want to live controlled by fear. I walked that road once, and now I'm on another road, where I don't have to fear my emotions. They are part of me, and make me who I am, if I will strive to be genuine and match up my words to my actions. I want to be the same person in all situations, and that involves going deep with how I feel, and not being afraid to communicate what I see as truth in any situation.

Our school district is recognizing the value of "emotional intelligence" and making it part of the daily culture in our schools. I am inspired by this, and encouraged that the importance of emotional health is climbing higher on the societal priority list. I have always known it to be of value, but didn't have a term for it or the confidence to talk about it before. It's about knowing ourselves, and being authentic, and going deep in our relationships as a result.

Fear holds us back from this, but once we decide to move forward in spite of our fears, we find that pretending was much harder than being honest. If you are always honest, and take responsibility for yourself and not for others, you don't have to worry about your stories and personalities matching up. You will have less to hide and more to give. There is a freedom which cannot be manufactured any other way except by living with authenticity. Until I experienced it, I had no way to understand it or believe it, but now I'm 100% sold.

No matter how deep I go, there is always more room to grow. This idea keeps life exciting. We are never done with change and personal growth. One step leads to another, which takes us somewhere we have never been. It's a journey that has no end, and no limit, except the ones we place on ourselves. Going deeper has brought me so much joy, and I can hardly wait to see what I can learn next.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Roses in Bloom

What is a mother? I've asked this question many times of myself in the last eight years, and had different answers at varying points along the journey. I know for sure that I am less self-centred since I became a mother, because motherhood is about sacrifice. It involves accessing love on a deeper level than you've ever known before, and giving of yourself even when you are sure you have nothing left to give.

It takes a long time to feel confident as a mother, or at least it did for me. I had to grow into it, like any new experience, and learn by making mistakes. The biggest thing that has helped me recently is fresh confidence that I am the best person to mother my kids. I know them better than anyone on the planet, and I am qualified to make choices for them based on who they are and what they need.

In our culture, we are in danger of information overload for almost everything, but particularly where it concerns our parenting. There is a book and a system for every kind of child and parent. Books and DVD's promise new kids in days if you try their proven method. We are told that spanking is wrong, and time-outs and consequences are right, but many of us feel overwhelmed and find that we have lost control of our own kids.

It seems as though I have become unplugged from my instincts as a mother, and in the attachment parenting course I've been attending, I've enjoyed navigating my way back to my own natural abilities as a mother, if I can simply put aside all of the "expert knowledge" I've received along the way. There is a natural power which lives inside of the parent-child relationship, provided we can access it and own it.

All moms love their kids, to the best of their ability, and as we get healthier within ourselves, our kids have the amazing opportunity to benefit from what we have learned. My renewed confidence in myself has helped my kids to feel stronger in their own identities, and that has been a beautiful process to watch, like a rose unfurling its petals in bloom.

Today I think of all of those who have longed to be mothers, and have not been able to be yet. Or those who have suffered the agony of losing a child through miscarriage, illness or death. And then there are moms who cannot be with their children all of the time due to work or divorce or other custody arrangements. I am grateful today that I have a daily relationship with my children, and for our health as a family unit, and for the many blessings we have received. I wish you all a Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

We Are Who We Are

I was lamenting recently to a friend about how I used to be, always worried about what others would think, and afraid to be honest with myself or others, and she said, "You were still the same person then as you are now."

I'm always tempted to throw away the baby with the bathwater (so to speak, obviously I never threw away my own babies with any bathwater) when it comes to my life. No matter how much I try to be comfortable with grey areas, I still tend to err on the side of black and white, and go all or nothing with my words.

She's right, of course. We are who we are, with our good qualities and our not-so-good ones, and we are all works in progress. I was still the same person before, and I have many of the same friends now as I did when I was a child or a teenager, so I couldn't have been that horrible of a person. It's just that I feel so radically different on the inside, so much more genuine than I ever felt before, and that is why I'm tempted to see myself as a whole new person.

Sometimes we just need a new lens to view ourselves through. I have learned to see my vulnerability and sensitivity as strengths this year instead of weaknesses, and although my boundaries were much more permeable before and healthier now, I was indeed the same person as I am today.

New growth does not cancel out all that came before, it just adds layers of meaning to our experience. My inner change takes time to telegraph to the world through my words and actions, but it will happen in time. And I will remain the same person I've always been.

I need to become more comfortable with the shades of grey in life. It's not clear cut and simple. It's messy and beautiful and hopeful and terrifying by turns, and embracing that as true is a big part of the journey. There is some comfort in knowing that we are who we are. We are born and we eventually die, and in between we own our individual personalities. We can improve on them, or damage them, but we remain ourselves.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Discovering Truth

Galileo said, "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered: the point is to discover them." This sounds simple, but it's actually anything but. Discovering truth takes honesty and guts and perseverance. It doesn't happen overnight; it's a slow and messy process which makes you want to quit every moment of every day, but when the truth settles quietly in your spirit, you know there is no substitute, and it encourages you to keep searching.

My journey from fake to real has been eye-opening at every twist and turn. I didn't see myself as pretending before, but when true comes along and dislodges pretend, there is no question that one is better than the other. Discovering truth about myself has freed me up to be who I am in this world without apologizing. I worry much less now about what others think of me, for I can't control that, but I can be my true self at all times.

It's not easy to be honest. I felt much safer when I was hiding deep inside myself, and behaving the way I thought others wanted me to. But with that method I never really knew if I was hitting the mark or missing it, and now I know that if I'm being true to who I am, it's enough. I don't need to do any more. I will still fail, and I have, quite spectacularly, but that's what the words, "I'm sorry" are for. I'm not sorry for who I am, but I can own my actions and try to make restitution when I have hurt someone else.

I'm learning that this is a long process, and there is no time limit on anything. I don't have a lot of patience by nature, and so this is a tough curve for me to master. Relationships can't be fixed as quickly as I would like. It takes at least two people to exist in relationship, and when someone needs time, we have to wait it out. There are actually worse things than broken relationships, and when they are broken temporarily, they may be on their way to something better in the future.

Boundaries are the key. I didn't understand the need for boundaries before, but they are the combination to the lock of uncovering who you really are, and holding fast when you are under attack. Boundaries might be uncomfortable for other people, but they offer permission to us when we feel lost and unsure of what we are doing. They protect and reassure, as long as we allow them to do their work and don't cave under pressure to go back to our old ways of coping.

Understanding truth becomes easier when we recognize that it's all about context. We must have a context for what we learn so that it makes sense to us. Living it out is much easier than striving to understand it on a mental level but not practicing it in any external way. Congruence is matching up who we are with what we say and do. Talk is cheap, but action is everything, and I want my actions to match up to what I believe and say.

Putting ourselves in a place where we know who we are means we can assimilate truth much easier. Looking under the moldy rug of my own heart has been horrifying, but taught me more about being honest than anything else has to this point. And crafting my personal and relationship boundaries and reading them, again and again, every single day, has helped to shore up my confidence in myself, and stay on a solid road when I'm tempted to duck and hide.

I want to keep going on this journey, even when I look down and see all of the cuts and bruises I have sustained, and consider all of the hurts I have unwittingly or intentionally inflicted on others. Real is true and genuine and messy, and pretend can't stand up against it. Truth is out there to be discovered, understood, and lived out, and I want to find more of it, every day I'm alive, and leave this earth with my hands firmly around as much truth as I can.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Passion is Fuel

I stumbled onto this one minute YouTube video the other day, and loved the simple concept that passion is fuel. I have definitely experienced this with my writing, and love the idea that your passion creates a magnet which brings you to what you are looking for, whether that's authentic connections with others, personal satisfaction, financial rewards, or anything at all.

Even on the darkest days, I know this to be true because I've felt it in my own life, and I've seen it happen around me to others. The video talks about positive emotional energy, and this is really the key between moving forward and staying stuck. I spent too many years mired in negativity, full of fear, believing that I didn't have what it would take to be successful. When I finally made the decision to turn from pessimism to optimism, and to change the way I viewed myself, I became unstuck and began to move again.

Anyone can do this, but it does involve getting to know yourself so you understand what your deepest passions are. If passion is your fuel, you need to know what moves you before you can begin accessing that positive energy. What do you care about most? What injustice bothers you and makes you want to rise up and put a stop to it? What gets your heart pounding with excitement? The answers to those questions direct you toward your passions.

It's helpful to know that there are no time limits on our dreams and passions. We can pursue them at any time. I needed to really embrace who I am before I could wholeheartedly pursue what I'm meant to be doing. For me, the two were closely tied together. I couldn't write when I felt I had to please everyone else and not myself.

I had to stop worrying about what other people thought, and put that energy into discovering who I am and building up my confidence in myself. When that happened, I was able to pursue my passions with less fear of what might happen when people didn't like what I had to say. I didn't believe in myself before, and I do now, and that has made all of the difference to me as I tapped into my passions and let them fuel my dreams.

Surrounding ourselves with cheerleaders is a good place to start. Look for those people who exude positive emotional energy. They are the ones who smile more often than they frown, and who express hope instead of doom and gloom on a regular basis. These are the people who have discovered the power of their own passions, and they can help to light the way for us as we learn what it means to believe in ourselves instead of doubt what we can do.

Someone who leads by example means a million times more than someone who says the right things but their actions don't match up to their words. I am now looking for congruence in the people I spend time with. I don't want to spend my energy bracing for the next attack, but instead I want to partner with those who prefer positivity to negativity.

There is a clear dividing line in this world between the two groups, and I'm beginning to improve at discerning who seems genuine and who doesn't. It's not an exact science, and we are all broken and let each other down, but integrity is when the actions and the words are the same, and when you find that dynamic at play, positive emotional energy is usually there as well. These are the people who can help us discover our own passions, and cheer us on through the disappointments that are sure to come, and motivate us to reach higher and be better as we journey through life.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fifteen Years Ago

Fifteen years ago today, Jason and I went to the Keg and to the movies on our first date. In some ways, it seems like a long time ago now, and in other ways, it feels like no time at all has gone by. I think all of life is like that, especially as you hit your mid-thirties and you have no idea why time has to go so incredibly fast.

When I think back to how I felt on May 4, 1996, as a 23 year old girl really falling in love for the first time, I can almost summon those tiny butterflies flitting around in my stomach and catching somewhere in my throat. Those heady days of attraction are charged with emotion and excitement, and you don't know when you are experiencing them that they will never come in that exact way again. I wish I would have paid better attention, but I do find that fifteen years later I can summon what we did and how I felt with reasonable accuracy.

I think I sensed deep down that it was something special. All I knew about love was gleaned from romantic movies and books, and anything I'd been able to observe happening in my circle of friends. Imagining anything is always different from the reality, but the feelings of falling in love did not disappoint for me. It was magic, the kind you could feel in your body, and I daydreamed for hours about him when we weren't together, and when we were side by side we were holding hands and time seemed to lose all meaning and grind to a halt.

I've loved the process of writing my novel about marriage, because I've been able to go back to those early days with Jason, and attempt to describe how it all felt. It's good to remember. I'm glad we've added two children and a thousand layers to our relationship since that first date, for our history together has deepened our affection and added chapters to our story, but there is nothing like the initial feeling of falling in love, and it truly doesn't last forever.

If I had the choice to go back fifteen years to the anticipation I felt for our first date, I would pass on the opportunity, because I like where I am now much more. But memory is an amazing device, for we can go back over our best and worst experiences at any time we choose, and I'm grateful today for the opportunity to remember. Before too long it will be time to walk through those heady feelings with my kids, when the conditions are right for them to fall in love. I'm excited about that already, and I look forward to sharing more of my own love story with them as they get older.

We all have incredible stories. One of the benefits of age is looking back with a bit more leisure, and passing on what we have experienced to others. I like the vantage point from this mid-way place, where there is so much to look forward to, but also a treasure trove of past experiences to remember and enjoy. Today I'm so glad that Jason and I went on that first date, and that I had the good sense to fall for him, and that he reciprocated those feelings. Our lives have been immeasurably changed by the emotions we felt fifteen years ago, and I find it very difficult to imagine my life now without him in it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Glimmer of Hope

When the news broke that Osama bin Laden was killed, I didn't have a strong immediate reaction. Because I am active on social media, I heard it there first, along with the variety of personal opinions which go along with that territory. As the news continued to gather steam on the internet after Obama's speech, my heart began to sink as I considered how cynical we are as a culture.

I know our world is broken. I don't have to look farther than the inside of my own heart to see that it's true. As I take apart my spiritual beliefs, brick by brick, and get back to the basics of Love God, Love Others, I somehow hoped that this process was happening everywhere, and of course it's not. Violence answers with violence, and the bloody cycle of war and retribution continues, generation after generation, leaving nothing but loss and pain in its wake.

I cringe when I hear reporters state that the war on terror is over now that bin Laden is dead. I feel like weeping when I see people dancing and celebrating when someone is murdered. None of it adds up to me. I was as devastated as anyone when the planes went into the twin towers, but I know that killing one solitary man doesn't guarantee our safety. If anything, it opens up fresh plans for more violent acts.

I took a chance and talked to Ava about bin Laden before she went to school yesterday morning. She is extremely sensitive to issues of safety and violence, and I was afraid that she would hear teachers or students talking about bin Laden and fill in the blanks with her own overactive imagination. I wanted to give her some scaled down information, and provide an opportunity for her to ask questions and talk about any of her concerns.

She dissolved into tears, and had a minor panic attack. I felt awful, and thought I had made a mistake in talking to her, and went down my usual route of self abuse because she was too young to handle some of this information. Eventually the conversation came around to a decision point, and I asked her to decide if she wanted to live in fear, or believe that she is in God's hands. We either believe that he takes care of us always, or he doesn't. It's a simple choice. She drew a few shaky breaths, wiped her wet eyes with the backs of her hands, and said, "I don't want to be afraid." In that moment, I knew she was going to be okay.

We prayed together, and hugged each other, and I wished that I could offer her more than this damaged world we live in. But it is all we have. That we are alive, and safe for today when so many others are not, gives us hope that we will pull through. Confidence in God helps a lot, and so does appreciating those we love and cherish, and understanding that whatever happens, we are all in this together.

She went to school, and my heart felt like a stone in my chest all day. I read comments on Facebook and Twitter, and talked to people, and listened to the chatter on the news and the internet, and I felt bleak about the cynical age we live in, where no one trusts anyone, and character doesn't count for much, and people don't think twice about criticizing others.

Sometimes I feel desperately in need of a glimmer of hope, and when I find optimism and love anywhere, I grab hold and never want to let go. If we are the change we want to see in the world, then the time is now to light a candle and let it burn through the darkness, and just maybe, it will be enough to get us through.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Diamond in the Rough

We watched Aladdin recently with our kids, and the phrase "diamond in the rough" stood out to me. I'm familiar with this concept when it comes to writing, as you end up polishing your work through re-writes until the diamond that you hoped was always buried in there begins to shine, but I also think of it now in terms of my life. We all have a beautiful diamond inside of us, but over the years and the wounds we sustain, it can become hard to locate through the rough of the garbage all around it.

So much of our teen years and our adulthood is about cloaking ourselves; covering up with more layers so that we won't be hurt as often or as viciously. We end up burying our true selves, the diamond that is meant to shine and be visible to others, because we are afraid of being mocked or hurt or insulted. We learn to protect ourselves, but in that process we end up hiding from who we really are.

I have been polishing at my diamond for a long time now, trying to see who I really am when I take down my carefully constructed walls. I did need to protect myself, but I'm in a different place now than I was as a child. I don't need the same ten foot walls. I am loved for who I am in many of the relationships I am in, and I had to slowly build up my belief in myself so I felt worthy of the love I was receiving. I needed to find my way back to myself, and not hide away in fear, but come on out into the light where I could be myself.

I have hurt others and I have been hurt. It's inevitable in this life. But for me, there is no more pretending, and no more contorting to be someone else. I am me, and I want to be me, and I am a diamond in the rough. Every one of us has amazing potential, but a big part of our job is to clear away the rubble so we can actually see who we are and what we are capable of. When you get tiny glimpses of your diamond, the beauty of what you have to offer will take your breath away.

There are so many possibilities in this life, available to all of us, if we will only be brave enough to try. It's never easy to go outside of what is comfortable for us, but when we do, life only gets better. It doesn't have to stay the way its been. If you don't like aspects of who you are or the life you are living, it's up to you to change it. You are responsible only for yourself, no one else, and that knowledge alone has freed me up to live without the handcuffs of worry stopping me every which way I turned.

We are all diamonds in the rough. We were meant to shine and inspire with our beauty and simplicity, not hide ourselves away because we are afraid of how we'll be received. Life is short, and we only get one shot at it. Now I want to make it count, as much as I can, by being fully myself.

I would rather be a first rate version of myself, instead of the second rate version of someone else that I was for much of my life (a loose interpretation of a wonderful Judy Garland quote). There is only one of you, and being as much yourself as you possibly can is the best way I know to be unique and memorable, and to leave a lasting impression on this world.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Parallel Journeys

It's an amazing thing to share the most intimate parts of ourselves with another person, and find that our journeys are remarkably parallel at the same time. Trust is such a huge piece of any relationship puzzle, and when trust is strong, anything seems possible between two people. It connects you so that nothing feels like it could break you apart, and it serves like a bank account where you build up trust during the good times, so that the reserve will see you through the hard times.

I've recently had this experience with a friend who has shared her heart with me, and listened to me pour out mine to her, like juice from a jug, and the sense of rapport and kinship has moved me deeply. All relationships are double-edged swords, where they can heal as quickly as they can wound, but when the trust level is high, and respect is offered and received between the parties, friendship is one of the most beautiful things on earth.

It's not easy knowing who to trust. In the past, I have given my heart away too easily, and the consequences of trusting too fast can be devastating. But we can learn something from each negative experience, and be wiser for the next one. It can also go the other way, where you build up slowly to friendship with someone, and you know you can trust them with your life, and they can count on you too, and that's where the true inspiration is found.

When you are on similar journeys, both working through fresh hurts together, the friendship has the opportunity to go even deeper. The identification level is so high that it becomes like speaking a foreign language with each other where only the basest shorthand is required and you know you have been heard and understood. Being seen for who you are, and truly understood, is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other as human beings.

This friend makes me want to be a kinder and better person, because she has given me so much of herself, and withheld judgement, and offered love and support when I needed it most. Good friends inspire us with their beauty, and selflessness, and encouragement. I want to be that kind of friend, even when I stumble and fall. I want to give when I feel I have nothing left to give, because I've seen it modeled and I know it exists in this cold world. I am grateful today, for I have been blessed by my friends, and I want to give as I have received.