Sunday, July 31, 2011

Business Sense

It turns out that I have more business sense than I gave myself credit for. I was looking to hire someone to design my author website, but while interviewing people for the job, I realized that I had a specific vision for my site, and it was harder to explain it to someone than to look into doing it myself. So I got some advice from my friend's son, who is a computer genius, and I plunged in.

At first it was exhilarating. I'm actually doing it! I'm building a website, and transferring my domain name, and doctoring pictures to fit the look I'm going for. And then came the crash. Not the literal website crash, but the inevitable roadblock of not knowing what the hell I'm doing in a certain area, and the frustration which accompanies the interruption of our smooth sailing.

Then comes the doubt. Can I really do this myself? Is my time better spent writing and paying someone to do this job for me? I try to summon up the joy I felt at the beginning, when it seemed easier than I thought it would be, and inch my way back to that place. Learning anything new is challenging. You flail around, like a fish out of water, certain that you are never going to get it, and suddenly the light dawns, and the problem is solved.

I wish I wasn't so obsessive about these tasks. I'm trying to improve in this area, but when I start something, I really want to finish it, and tend to stay too long in a frustrated place. It was a beautiful day and I should have taken the kids out for a bike ride or to the park to play, and hopefully I will remember this the next time I sit down at the computer and hit the frustration wall.

Everything doesn't have to be done at once. There is time. My children are valuable and important too, and summer is zipping by and I don't want to miss the opportunities I have to enjoy it with my kids and my friends. My blinding ambition must be tempered with a sense of how good life can be, when we slow down to appreciate what is right in front of us. Relationships are what matter in the long term, and keeping the stress level low, and maintaining reasonable expectations.

My point is that we can do more than we think we can, on any given day and on virtually every subject. If we don't know how to do something, its never been easier to learn. With a few clicks of our mouse, we can educate ourselves on whatever seems out of our reach. Our friends, both real and virtual, can help us when we get stuck. Keeping a sense of humour is important, and so are regular breaks from our chair.

Perspective is a good thing. So is permission to fail, to rage, and to eventually triumph over what had stumped us. I'm proud of my slowly developing business sense. It needs to be nurtured, and loved, and coaxed out into the light, but with each small success I can feel it taking hold in my soul. It's becoming part of me, slowly but surely, and I'm happy to inch over and make a place for it to exist within me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

We Have to Hope

I wish I was more at peace with the things that make no sense. Why should a 31 year old mother develop serious cancer and be in the ICU days after her diagnosis with a one year old baby at home? I can't make sense of these things, and I don't know where the line is between caring about her and her family and not allowing my fear and sadness to take over my life.

It's always easier to accept these things when they happen to someone else, but when this kind of situation develops within your own family, and overlaps the edges of your heart and life, it feels deeply personal. I am angry that this is happening to someone I love. I remember when I had a miscarriage, and I felt shocked and angry that my easy life would be disrupted by something so awful, and then one day this thought descended, "Why not me?"

Tragedy happens, all of the time, but to people other than ourselves or those we love. Moving through life and trying to keep death and disease at bay is like a horse wearing blinders through a parade. The people are there, all around, and the horse can sense them, but not see them. Most of my life I tried to function in this way, with blinders on and my fingers in my ears singing "lalala, I can't hear you!" at the top of my voice to bolster my own courage.

The blinders seem to be falling off now, and I must work through the reality that I see and experience. It's hard. I don't want to face the possibility that this person I love could die, far earlier than she should, and I am struggling to find any purpose at all in this brutal disease ravaging her body and trampling on all of our spirits.

In my spiritual life, I've been moving toward accepting that there are more answers than questions. I don't need it to be black and white any longer, and I understand that shades of gray is where we live in this world in terms of our knowledge on any given subject. Perhaps this is the same. Death and disease is part of the broken world we live in. Despair anchors our joy. I wish it wasn't this way, but I am not the one in charge (thank God for that) and surrender offers freedom, if we can manage to do it with authenticity and honesty.

All of life is a process. We get the mountaintops and the valleys, the sun and the rain, the misery and the happiness. I only know how to keep going, and to not give up, even when I want to sit down and cry with my head in my hands. We have to hope that God is there, and faithful in a way that we can't understand when our hearts feel like stone in our chests. Even when it doesn't make sense, there must be something to hold on to, and believe in.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Inessential

Someone recently posted a 20 minute Harvard commencement speech by J.K. Rowling on Facebook. It was from 2008 and about the benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination. I found it inspiring, particularly when she stated that "failure meant a stripping away of the inessential."

I loved that turn of phrase, and recognized it as what I've been doing over the last several years. I've learned how to fail, and to be at peace with failure, and to identify what holds meaning for me and what is inessential. Recently I read on Twitter that "success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." I think I would have disagreed with that statement five years ago, and now I agree wholeheartedly with it.

Failure helps us grow. It motivates us to keep going; to find what works when we've exhausted all that doesn't work. It helps us shine a light on our priorities, sifting through what will not last in search of what makes a permanent mark. Failing well has brought me much closer to success than desperately avoiding the barest hint of failure. I no longer aim to be perfect because I know it to be a trap and a huge waste of time and energy. Failure has so much to teach us if we will let it.

I'm longing for the simple now that I am in my late thirties. I want to limit the amount of clutter in my brain. I don't work so hard to distract myself like I did in my twenties from the unpleasant parts of life. There is a whole spectrum of feelings to experience, from joy to devastation and everything in between, and numbing out from these feelings is not the way to my authentic self. I want to embrace who I am, warts and all, and that means facing what used to terrify me and have me running in the opposite direction.

Perhaps, at long last, I am growing up. Some days I'm certain that I'm on the right path, and other days I panic, and don't feel at all prepared for this new person I'm becoming. In fact, she's not so new, as I think I've always been who I really am, but I simply couldn't accept her before this. I am no longer hiding who I am from myself, or from the world, and the resulting vulnerability takes some adjusting to.

I spent too long living with the inessential as a big part of my life. Now I want what brings meaning to me, and to those I love, and I don't want to worry about what used to seem so important before. I want to live in grace, and peace, and to search for joy wherever I can find it. I want to leave the rest behind, like that backpack of stones I have been struggling with for so long. Every so often I stumble under its weight, and realize with some surprise that I have been carrying it when I meant to set it by the side of the road, stand up straight, and walk away.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Place to Belong

Today would have been my Granny's 93rd birthday. She died in November 2008 at the age of 90. I think about her a lot now and miss her. I'm from a very small family, and my Granny was an important part of my life. There is something so valuable about one generation reaching out and investing in the next one (or the one after in my Granny's case). She is a part of virtually every one of my significant childhood memories, and I never once doubted how much she loved me.

Earlier this summer, we took the kids to Stettler, where my Granny lived for most of her life. I loved taking my children on a tour of the parks I played at, the corner store I walked to for slurpees, the movie theatre I frequented, the restaurants we dined in, and the stores we shopped at. Ava has good memories of Granny, but William was only two when she died and most of his memories will be reconstructed through photos and discussions about her, and I want to keep her alive for them.

The night that we stayed in Stettler, I dreamed about my Granny's house. She had the best basement in the world, with orange and brown beaded curtains, and a kind of open plan where you could run in large circles through a number of rooms as long as all of the doors were open. My Grandfather, who died when I was five, had a narrow woodworking shop at the bottom of the basement stairs and we spent hours in there, poking around at all of the tools that my Granny never used but didn't have the heart to get rid of, and exploring every inch of that confined space.

The downstairs bathroom had a light purple rug which resembled a toy troll's hair (as an adult, I try not to focus too long on how repulsive this kind of carpet would be in a bathroom). You would walk in there and immediately lose your feet and ankles. We buried toys in that carpet and loved squishing our toes and fingers in it.

There was a sitting area in the basement with a wonderful fake fireplace which you could turn on with a switch and the "coals" would get hot and glow (I also try not to dwell on the dangers of young children playing with this ancient contraption for hours unsupervised in a basement). We would cook pretend stew in metal bowls over this heat source and come in from the imaginary cold after hunting with a toy rifle and eat this stew. Nothing ever tasted so good to me.

I love the detail stored in my brain about my Granny's house, and her basement in particular. Driving past it earlier this month, I wanted desperately to knock on the door and ask the new owners if I could show my kids around, as they had never been there when my Granny owned it. Jason was mortified at this idea, and convinced me that it would be changed now, eight years later, and that I should leave it as it was in my memory.

He was right, but sometimes I long to go back to those lazy days of childhood where time held no meaning as I played with my siblings in that basement, with my mom and Granny visiting upstairs over a cup of tea and homemade cookies. The feelings bubbling up from thinking about those days are warm and bring me to the edge of tears.

None of us can go back, except in our minds, and I'm so happy I have these memories. They make me more conscious of the ones my children are forming on a daily basis, and I know how precious these mental spaces are as we get older. They are a refuge, and a retreat when life is hard, and they give us a place to belong, and to feel safe, and to remember some of the tangible joys of childhood.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cogs in the Wheel

Jason and I just finished watching the ten part HBO miniseries The Pacific, and when it was over we watched the behind-the-scenes footage of the real-life marines when they were young. Jason loves history, and the twentieth century wars in particular, and he watches things like this all of the time, but it was new for me.

When it was over, I asked Jason if it ever bothers him how fast we are hurtling through time, as those marines went to fight in unimaginably horrific circumstances so that I could enjoy the freedom I take for granted almost every day, and now most of them who survived the war have died of old age. He said, "Of course it bothers me, but one of the things I love most about history is that we are cogs in the wheel, and that humans have been working through the same kinds of issues for century upon century, and there is a certain comfort in that."

I'm not sure that I like thinking of myself as a cog in the wheel. I see what he is saying, but deep inside of all of us lives the hope that we have something special and unique to offer to the world. We all want to make a difference and leave some kind of a mark, and every now and again it's a good reminder to get going on our dreams while we have the time and the breath to do so.

The world is full of uncertainties; it always has been and likely always will. It's depressing that we can't seem to learn from our mistakes. The United States is poised on the edge of financial collapse, and I would like to think they could have seen this coming and made better decisions. A troubled young man in Norway opened fire on a youth camp because his ideology differed from theirs. It's difficult not to despair under these circumstances.

I wish we could be unified with each other, and accept our differences instead of allowing them to divide us. There are so many boundary lines in this world and not enough grace to help us over the rough patches. We've been going to war and resorting to violence for way too many years. When is peace going to have a chance? We teach these things in elementary schools so that our kids will learn from the past and not make the same mistakes in the future, but for as long as these divisions last, so will the violence. We don't seem to be changing our ways as a global culture, and my heart aches badly when I reflect on these things.

I have to hang my hope on Gandhi's quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world." We can't control what happens in society, but we are responsible for what lives in our own heart. If I live out an alternative to violence and destruction, maybe there is hope for my children, and their children after them. Throughout human history, parents have worried about their kids, and prayed for safety and health, and leaned on each other for support in the hardest of times. We have the same chance.

This is our time. We are living now, at this moment in history, and the choices we make have significance in our relationships with a ripple effect to the rest of the world. We all have something to contribute and to do with our lives and our time. Today I feel the urgency to make better decisions, to be a little bit kinder, and to pursue my dreams while I have the chance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Tips of the Trees

Over the last six months or so, I've been focused on moving past some of my biggest fears: making mistakes, surrendering control, and not allowing the judgements of others to rule my daily life. In these areas, I have made enormous progress, and while I still stumble from time to time, I have solidified my changes enough to believe that the worst is behind me. I know I can move on from here and be more conscious of what is actually happening, as opposed to blindly and slavishly living with no awareness of the bondage I was once in to these fears.

Progress in these areas is a beautiful thing, but I've noticed that fear creates a vacuum. Where one thing has lost its grip on me, others have rushed in to take its place: death, aging, and losing my mental health. I would list fear of flying here, as this has been on my mind more than usual with our November flight to Mexico creeping closer on the calendar, but somehow I understand on a base level that my fear of flying is tied up in these other fears, for if I am prepared to die at any time, then going on a plane should not terrify me, but yet it does.

Over the last few months, I've been grateful to my pastor at church for speaking about death. Telling myself, "Whether you are alive or dead, you are in God's hands" helps me most of the time with this big fear, but when I match it up with getting on an airplane, it seems to go up a notch. In the dead of night, when I feel nervous about flying, I try to be honest with myself about where the fear is coming from.

I think we must feel our way through these fears, and do our best to tie it back to the right source in order to get some distance from it. When fear attacks me, I feel it as nervousness, with physical symptoms like sweaty palms, a tightness in my stomach, and a tendency to breathe shallowly and struggle against panic.

Breathing deeply helps, but I am no longer tempted to distract myself like I used to. When I use distractions, it simply delays the fear and I want it to stop revisiting me. I don't want to drown it out or push it away, because it needs to be stared down and experienced before I can begin to deal with it. I need to get above it, or it becomes a situation where I can't see the forest for the trees.

This happened the other night with my fear of flying. I couldn't sleep, and I tried to visualize getting on the plane with my husband and my kids, and flying for four and a half hours to Mexico. Imagining the palm trees and the water and the imminent relaxation doesn't help. Visualizing a smooth, non-turbulent flight doesn't help either, because you never know when turbulence might hit and I want to learn to stay calm and not panic no matter what may occur.

Logically I can tell myself that planes don't go down because of turbulence, and that whether I am alive or dead, I am in God's hands, but I'm trying to get to the root of my fear. For the first time, I let my mind nose ahead, and go where it wanted, and I realized with a shock that I am actually afraid of the inside of my own mind. I am worried that I will panic, and begin to lose my grip on reality, and not have anywhere to go to hide because I am stuck on an airplane.

For some of you, that may sound ludicrous, and I can fully admit that it is. But my dad was mentally ill, and the seeds of that illness can be passed from parent to child, and I fear that those roots are living inside of me. Worrying about this on a daily basis is the same as panicking that I will get cancer or rabies or Alzheimer's, and I try to have faith that God will look after me, and only manage what comes and not prepare for what might never come.

Going on a plane is not the same as daily life, at least in my mind. It's a small and confined space that somehow mimics the inside of my own head, and I don't want to panic and lose control of myself. Just typing it here helps me to rise above it enough to see the tips of the trees, and it gives me enough to hold onto so the fear can loosen its steel grip on me.

Our lives are complicated, with one fear and experience tied into another, each stemming from something which we often have no conscious awareness of. I'm learning to stop controlling my life so carefully and loosen the reins so my imagination can go where it wants to and tell me what I need to know to get better and stronger. Fearing my own limitations won't get me anywhere, but recognizing where the fear comes from and why it has taken hold gives me a chance to look at each problem, tree by tree, with just a little more objectivity than I had before.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Thirteenth Anniversary

Today is our thirteenth wedding anniversary. Every anniversary is a chance to celebrate where we are now, and how far we've come as individuals and as a couple, and look to where we are heading in the future. Marriage is a complicated animal, filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and moments of happy bliss countered with the greatest insecurities and fears that you will split up and not make it through the rough patches.

As the product of a broken home, I approach marriage with a kind of "hold-your-breath-and-hope-for-the-best" philosophy. It was always my goal to have a good marriage, not simply a marriage which lasts, as the two are very different things. Jason is from an intact home where his parents just celebrated their thirty-seventh wedding anniversary, so he is much more relaxed and secure when it comes to our marital future.

I am astounded at what we have already come through in the last thirteen years. We have grown up together, discovering who we are individually and changing radically as one year flows into the next. I have to adjust every time Jason makes changes, and he has to alter himself as I change. Then there are the life changes which we both have to adapt to: the moves, the job changes, the friends who are close and then move away, and of course, the process of having babies which have now grown into children.

When we are close, we feel really close to each other. The opposite is also true. Any division in our relationship has the power to tear us apart, as a tiny rip in a piece of fabric can develop quickly into a jagged rift which breaks the cloth in two. As we build up relationship equity in the good times, I am less panicked that the jig is up in the stressful periods. I think this fear is common for people with divorced parents, but I am grateful for Jason's solidity when I am unsure. I need that compass point, facing true north, so I have something to follow.

Each spouse brings so much into the marriage. A lot of it is good, and much of it is not. I'm learning to see marriage as a living organism, and all living things must be allowed to change and grow, or they stagnate and die. I want to keep improving myself and therefore making my marriage better and stronger. I love that I chose a man who will keep pace with this growth, and although it is always rocky when we are both changing, eventually we settle in and find a new normal, and that takes us to a better place than we have ever been before.

On this anniversary, lucky thirteen, I do feel fortunate. We have worked hard for the relationship we have built, and in this last year we have touched the mountaintops together and trudged through the deepest mud at the bottom of the pond, and survived both. With every year, we get a little bit better as a couple, and I appreciate the time we have spent as married partners and the time we have been granted to do even more together. Working for a strong and happy marriage is a precious gift, not only for each other but also for our children, and today I am grateful.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fresh Ideas

We went to Drumheller last week to see the passion play about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was a beautiful summer evening, and the outdoor theatre in the middle of the badlands was a stunning setting for a play. I've seen approximately a million passion plays in my thirty-eight years of life (plus or minus a few) and was surprised to find myself carried along so effortlessly in the story and enjoying the performance more than any other I've ever seen.

The outdoor ambiance was a factor, but I think it was really my altered spiritual views which improved my viewing experience. With a new perspective comes a changed framework so the information processes differently, and I enjoyed dissecting this experience even as it was happening.

I watched the religious leaders of Jesus's time be utterly baffled by his ideas and practices. They had their rules, and their carefully defined specifications, and they held so tightly to their laws and power that there was no room for any creative thought which might challenge them. Jesus came along and socialized with the poor and the marginalized and the broken. He healed, and loved, and forgave, and included the disenfranchised with what he was doing.

It occurred to me while watching this play that all of life mirrors this principle. The old is threatened by the new, as the established fights to hold on by wielding the power that has been built and held, and fresh ideas stubbornly push their way through, in spite of the force which tends to come against them. Previous to this, I had often been on the side of the old, the tested and true, and tended to shake my metaphorical stick at the crazy "outside-of-the-box" newcomers.

It's all different now that I'm in the fresh ideas camp. I've worked through many of my fears about leaving rules and regulations in my dust and moving to embrace the fact that I cannot control what happens in the world, and I no longer desire to. Other people must make their own choices, and live with their consequences, and the success or the fall-out does not have to change my course of action. It is not my job to convert anyone to my line of thinking, for my thoughts and ideas are now fluid and have the right to change.

I watched Jesus incite the religious leaders into a fury, calling violently for his death because they were so deadly opposed to the change he was proposing, and I recognized how I used to be and how I am now. There is no going back for me. My love for God has grown, and my distaste for the kind of religion I used to embrace has also grown.

I want to simplify it all down to these four words: Love God. Love Others. The rest has faded mercifully into the background, and I love the person that I have become as a result of these fresh and new ideas.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

No Easy Answers

I have a friend struggling through fertility issues. She is as honest and transparent as anyone I've ever met, and she asks the really hard questions as she tries to understand why she can't do what is so effortless for most people. My heart breaks for her, and yet there is nothing I can do. I have two children, and she wants to be a mother with everything inside of her, and it makes no sense to me that she has to walk this lonely road.

Why is it that most people can have babies without giving it a whole lot of thought, and then other people face a steep uphill climb and have done everything "right" and yet can't make this dream a reality, through no fault of their own? And everywhere my friend looks, all she sees are happy families, and she longs to be in that club and yet the door is continually slammed in her face.

There are so many things which have the power to divide us in our relationships. Too much money or not enough, success instead of failure (or the reverse), kids or no kids. We end up with these lines drawn in the sand, and they become the elephants in the room which no one refers to, but they possess the power to capsize the smooth sailing in our friendships.

I love that my friend is talking about this pain. She is making a taboo subject visible, and I salute her bravery in doing this. There are no easy answers, and she knows that, but she is examining why it divides, and wondering aloud big questions like, "What makes a parent?" and "Will not having kids poison us with bitterness in the years to come, or will the difficulties of the fertility journey do the same thing?"

This kind of honest expression is inspiring to me. I can't provide a single answer to my friend as to why I could get pregnant and carry two children to term and she has suffered multiple miscarriages. I don't understand the system of why birthing babies happens for most, and yet some women have to suffer the indignity of infertility. I would like God to be fair to all, and offer the same reproductive possibilities to everyone, but this is not how life works.

For now, there is honesty, and humour, and grace to extend to those who are hurting. I may not have walked the same road as my friend, but I've been hurt in other ways, and been on the outside looking in, and I can take what I have learned and give as much of it away to her as possible. And if that is no help to her, I can stand with her and rail about how unfair it is, and give her a place to cry and rant and be totally true to her emotions, and pray that the best course of action for my friend and her husband will reveal itself, and bring her peace.

On a side note, I wrote a guest post for Seven Sentences today called True Transparency. Seven Sentences receives a lot of guest posts so I'm honoured to be chosen as a guest writer. You can find my post about honesty in social media here and comments are always welcome. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 22, 2011

One Day at a Time

When I least expect it, my addiction to making people happy will rear up and kick me in the face, and I'm sent spinning. Thankfully, these dizzying spins are over faster than they used to be, as I talk myself down from the ledge (or have a friend do it) and eventually I regain my equilibrium. I suppose it will always work like this. For alcoholics, the lure of one drink can derail all of the progress they have made, and my people-pleasing addiction will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.

I met with someone recently who mentioned in passing that some people seem to have issues with me. Intellectually, I recognized this as true and responded that I've been learning to adjust to the idea that not everyone likes me, and that I'm really okay with this. Our intellect is often disconnected from our emotions, and when I later tried to pinpoint why I was feeling blue, this tiny snippet of conversation came back to me.

It's one thing to work through these fears and feel this pain on your own, but when it's brought to your attention outside of your own internal process, I think it always hurts. I would still prefer, in my heart of hearts, that people liked me. Sometimes I long to turn back the clock, to a time before I stood up for myself and drew boundaries and vocalized the kinds of things that were unacceptable to me.

But then I think about how much I've changed, and the price tag that was attached to that personal growth, and I realize anew that I will never go back to the way I used to be. I need to be free to be who I am, at all times, and without fear of the consequences. Not everyone has to like me (this is one of my personal twelve step mantras). It's okay to do what is right and healthy for me, and not everyone will agree with me, and they don't have to.

Maybe if I type it enough, in slightly different words each time, it will sink in and take root at the deepest core of my being. As a recovering people-pleaser addict, I have to extend grace to myself and recognize where my fears and anxieties can be triggered. I am not responsible for what other people do and say. I am only responsible for myself, and where I have made enemies, I can forgive myself and live at peace within myself.

One day at a time, as the addicts say, and I was addicted to being liked by others for a lot longer than I have learned to cut myself free from that pressure. The price was simply too high for me to pay, and I could no longer make my decisions based on being liked and popular. It had to be more about what was right and healthy for me, and less about what I perceived others needed me to be. Falling back into old fears is part of recovery, provided I reiterate my boundaries to myself and extend permission to hold them, whether or not I am liked by others.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Power to Parent Eight

This is the final Power to Parent recap of the DVD series by Dr. Gordon Neufeld. I've loved the feedback I've received from many of you about how helpful these ideas have been. I have seen them radically change my parenting practices, and improve the daily quality of the relationship I have with my children, and for that I am so grateful to Dr. Neufeld for all of his work and research.

This last session provides strategies for imposing order through discipline that will preserve the attachment between parent and child. The root meaning of discipline is to impose order. Kids are naturally chaotic and crave routine and order. All things must be done in a context of connection. It's important to work the relationship, not the behavioural incident. As a parent, ask not what to do, but what context to do it in.

When it comes to resolving conflict, we must make a connection with the child first in order to talk it over. Buying some time is okay. You don't have to rush it. It's best not to parent by shooting from the hip, but instead by becoming conscious and reflective. In the moment, we tend to respond to the urgent, not the important. The incident doesn't need to be fixed urgently as the overall relationship is the priority.

Dr. Neufeld suggests that we impose order primarily through structure and ritual in our home, and not by bossing a child around. Anything that happens regularly in your house, make it a tradition and a routine which can be counted on. This brings order to the environment. This involves having a regular structure for homework time, screen and TV time which can be counted on, sitting down to regular meals, etc. If we pay attention to what is causing problems for our kids, we can often solve it by adjusting the routine (i.e. too much screen time and not enough connecting time).

Aim to change a mind instead of behaviour. Values don't internalize through consequences (you are using the child's values instead of sowing the seeds of your own). Intentions are the starting point for behaviour. Be proactive, not reactive. This is a long-term plan, not short-term. Having mixed feelings is important to learn self control. Our job is to help our kids want to do things, but we must teach this.

This whole work of soliciting good intentions is in the relationship. The access to the mind is through the heart - if we have their heart, we have their mind. Solicit a good intention before an incident occurs by preparing the child for what is going to be required. You are doing a sales job here, try to get the nod and the eye contact. Ask your child, "Can I count on you to try this?" then when it occurs, give a knowing wink and a smile, showing you are together, helping each other.

Line a child up with his intentions, not his behaviour. This stays away from being adversarial. Getting the child to agree that they could have done better gives you something tender to work with. Keep the tone friendly. You don't want your child to abandon their good intentions. It's important to be supportive in this process. Discipline is about being on the same side as the child, not existing as adversaries.

Draw out mixed feelings instead of demanding self control. This is an integration process with two different feelings in the mix, pushing and pulling the child in two different directions (i.e. "I'm excited to go on a sleepover but afraid to be away from you for the night"). It's important to parent from our own mixed feelings. We need to invite ourselves and our kids to feel everything there is to feel. The secret of self control is adding in emotions, not taking them away.

When the feelings are intense, they need to come down in temperature before you mix them. Work around the edges. Get your child to feel this, but also that, so they have two things at once to temper how they feel. Conflict is the heart of growth. We tend to want certainty in our society, but we need to look at the other side of every emotion to find the equilibrium of the situation. Most of our discipline happens in the infrastructure: what's under the behaviour are the emotions, and that's where we need to work.

Aim for sadness when a child is up against futility. Keep the image of the maze in your mind, and where the child cannot adapt, they must accept the futility and reach the still point of acceptance. Adaptation is not cerebral, but is about emotional learning. Be patient. This is nature's discipline process. Don't distract. Let it sink in. Most of the work here is in debriefing the situation with the child.

Take control through changing the circumstances, especially when unable to change the child. You can't control a child who is not in control of themselves. When it's not working, don't shout louder or offer more commands. Walk your own maze, feel the futility, be sad, reach the still point, and then go in another direction: "Hey, I know, let's leave this and go outside and look for butterflies." Walk the maze in parenting when it's not working. Find another way.

Script the actions of the immature to buy some time for the child to grow up. We often say, "Grow up" or "act your age" but you cannot command maturity. We must accept where our children are at and recognize that they have a right to immaturity as they are still growing. We are the adults and should be more mature than our children. We must model this and show them the way.

Scripting their actions is like directing a play and getting a performance from an actor who is not as mature as the role demands that they be. We must give cues to our children and collect them so that they are following. Don't say what not to do, but give positive cues: "This is how to hold a baby/pet a cat/ask someone for help." It's like a game of follow the leader. Give commands that they can actually follow.

We must hold on to our children until they can hold on to themselves. I have imposed more order and routine on my kids so they know what to expect, and this has helped with discipline. I have also added in more scripting, and been aware of the need to solicit a good intention and get them on the same side that I am on. I've learned to be more patient and see the relationship as more important than the behavioural incident we are working through. This DVD course has changed the way I parent for the better, and I am so grateful to Dr. Gordon Neufeld.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Fog Has Lifted

A thunderstorm rolled in while I was camping in Fairmont last week, and to distract William from his fear we watched the movie Tangled. We took the kids to see this film in the theatre and loved it, but watching it again, cozied up in my mom's motorhome in our pj's, I was struck by the song lyric, "At last I see the light, and it's like the fog has lifted." It seems to capture what the last few weeks have felt like to me.

Living in a fog is a deeply unsettling feeling. You can't see much, and you feel afraid, and you worry that life will always be that way. In the hardest times, I always find it difficult to remember that it wasn't always like that, and that one day things will be good again. It's just so hard to convince yourself, because until you see the light, you are stumbling around in the darkness.

Life is made up of seasons, and we don't get an invitation announcing when that season is going to change. The good never lasts, but neither does the bad, and one benefit of getting older is that the highs aren't quite so high, and the lows not as devastating as they used to be, because you know it's all coming again in another version at some point.

What happens to us is not nearly as important as how we interpret it, and our insight is only as good as our perspective. Seeing the light is different for each person and each circumstance we find ourselves in. These epiphanies come, and have the power to change our lives, if only we will allow them the freedom to do so. We can't control when our fogs roll in and when they lift, as there are so many factors at play, but we can be open to learn from each situation, and be flexible enough to change when we need to.

For now, I am enjoying this new season of clearer vision, and not fighting through a fog all of the time. My people-pleasing tendencies have been brought under some semblance of control, while still rearing up from time to time, but now I am more aware of what is going on during my decision-making process. The hard work of feeling the pain of letting people down seems to be behind me, and in that respect, I love the sensation of the sun on my face, and knowing that for now the fog has lifted.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

10,000 Hours

I'm reading Shania Twain's autobiography, From This Moment On, and in it she mentions the 10,000 hour rule, which was completely new to me. The rule says that no one can be an expert at anything without at least 10,000 hours of practice. This breaks down to about three hours a day for a period of ten years.

I've been thinking about this in terms of my writing, because I was always in such a rush before, and now I'm learning to slow down and settle into what it is that I'm actually trying to accomplish. I don't want to just write a bestseller or sell a screenplay anymore. Now I'm thinking in terms of building a career. One that will last, and where I will continue to get better and better with what I am doing.

It's an important shift in my thinking. I don't have as much to prove to the world as I once did. Now I want to do this for myself, and make it last. Having a flash-in-the-pan success and then never being able to sustain it no longer interests me. I want to get better at the craft of writing, and self publishing, and promoting what I'm doing, and I no longer expect that I should have some innate sense of how to do these things.

I have to learn, like everyone else, and put in the time to practice what I'm doing in order to get better. I must make mistakes, and not be defeated by them. With each rejection, I choose to either improve and get better, or I give up. I want to reach my 10,000 hours and know that I got better and better, each step of the way, and to stop looking for shortcuts.

There is only hard work, and perseverance, and never, ever giving up. Talent might be in the mix, but it comes further down the list. Without the practice time, and the element of being in the right place at the right time, and teaching yourself what you need to know, there is no success, and certainly no long-term career. I wish I would've understood this when I was younger, but it's better late than never.

I've been writing since I was a kid, but I'm nowhere near the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert. But I'm on the right road, and I'm not wasting all of my time being jealous of those who are further ahead than me, and I'm no longer looking for a magic bullet so I can avoid the hard work.

I'm writing, every day, and learning to navigate the learning curve that is social media, and adding in self publishing to my skill set. I'm working toward those 10,000 hours, and trying to stay focused on my own game plan. Where I fail, I can pick myself up and keep going. It helps to know that it takes a long time, and that I'm right where I need to be at this moment in time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Air Show

On the weekend we took the kids to the second Airdrie Air Show. The first one was two years ago, and we craned our necks from the van to see the Snowbirds while in an endless line of traffic trying to reach the parking lot. I think that the organizers of the event were stunned by the amount of people in attendance, and the two vendor stands and handful of parking volunteers were not nearly enough for the throngs of people.

This time, we took advantage of the free shuttle bus to avoid the parking issues, and settled into our lawn chairs close enough to hear the announcer, and tried not to melt in the thirty degree heat. By the time the F-16 zoomed by us at 850 MPH, the sound vibrating through our bodies in its wake, we were all primed and ready for a memorable experience (except for William, who sobbed with his heavy ear protection on, begging to go home. Supersonic jets are simply not his thing).

By the time the Snowbirds came, matching their dipping acrobatic beauty to the music, I found my soul stirring toward creativity in all of its many forms. It was as though my soul was turning over and sitting up, waking after the winter, and being attuned to the inspiration which is all around. There is so much cynicism in the world, and skepticism is the enemy of creativity.

Cynicism says, "All of the good ideas have already been taken." It scowls and proclaims, "There is no originality left; everything is recycled." Watching those planes dance with each other, inspiring the crowd to stand and cheer, I decided once and for all to refuse to believe those lies. For as long as humans are alive, there remains the hope and the possibility of originality. We are original beings, searching for meaning and purpose, and struggling to express what is inside of us that ends up being identifiable to other people.

I'm grateful for those moments of breathtaking inspiration while watching the Snowbirds. They reminded me that I am part of the human race, and we are not all going to hell in a handbasket. There is so much to be thankful for, and inspired by, and moved to the deepest layers of our being, provided we will choose those things instead of negativity and cynicism. The bad stuff won't take you anywhere you really want to be. Those qualities mire you in quicksand, and will pull you under if you let them.

I want to fly, up there with the Snowbirds, in all of the possibilities open to me every single day. I can hope, and dream, and believe in myself. I can love, and extend grace to others, and seek beauty. I can know that anything is possible instead of telling myself that the good ideas have already been taken. I plan to add my voice to the rest, and find my own original place, and I believe that this world would be much better off if we all aimed for the stars on a daily basis.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

To Speak or Stay Silent

Something happens when we deny ourselves what we most want to do, whether it's complaining or fighting back or defending our actions: we grow and improve, ever so slightly with each of our choices. We are growing all of the time, and we determine what direction that growth is in. We either get more negative and bitter, or we take the harder road and we get a little bit stronger and healthier with each choice we make.

I've been experiencing this lately, and I am amazed that I didn't seem to understand this process before. I think I was so busy complaining on a regular basis that I didn't even recognize what was happening. I didn't take the higher road in my relationships because I didn't know it was there. I'm trying to be more aware of the paths available to me on any given day. I can take the same one I've always taken, or I can try a new direction.

I love what personal growth gives me in the long term, but damn, do I ever detest the moment of choice and the mid-point. It's bumpy as hell, and so tempting to give in to my base urges to criticize, whine, complain, gossip or tell someone what I really think of them. Intentionally choosing not to engage in what feels comfortable but I know only leads me to misery is very hard, but in that moment, I feel the stretch and know that I have moved infinitesimally toward something better in myself.

We have to train our eyes to look for another way. Giving in to what we've always done or seeking that rush which accompanies surrendering to our anger in the name of justice might help us feel better in the moment, but long-term it doesn't help us to grow in a positive direction. Even taking a few deep breaths at the second we want to react makes a big difference. It gives us a margin of perspective that we are unable to achieve when our emotions are bubbling to the surface.

As humans, it is both good and bad that we have so many choices. We can hold ourselves to a higher standard, but only if we want to. That growing edge is sharp and rough and it hurts badly. Before this season in my life, I virtually always gave in to the easier way. I complained, I stood up for myself, I fought back when I felt I had been crossed.

Now I know I don't have to react automatically anymore. I can choose to do nothing when someone has wounded me. I can be baited, and I can decide not to rise to the bait. Or I can fight back when I feel I need to. It's good to have the choice, and over a period of time I hope that I will learn when it's worth it to speak and when I should remain silent, no matter how hard it is.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I don't think I trusted my instinct enough in my younger years. Now I recognize that our intuition is a powerful thing, if we will trust it enough to lead us where we need to go. Often our instincts can circumvent our minds, and take us to new heights. I want to bypass my fears more often and short-circuit the running tapes I have in my mind which can derail my best efforts.

In our current society, we tend to be removed from our instincts. Our emotional warning systems have been tampered with and we no longer trust ourselves to make good decisions. Social media is a problem here because we can ask our friends and acquaintances what we should do in any given situation and end up with a committee decision.

Every day, we have choices in front of us, and I like to think I'm getting smarter about making them, but only when I listen to my intuition. When I try to go around it, or ask for a vote on it, I virtually always end up down the wrong path. Taking responsibility for our own lives is critical. This means accepting blame when we fail and praise when we succeed, both of which can be equally challenging.

Our instincts help us by overriding many of our excuses and wishes. Sometimes we need to get out of our own way in order to break away from what is holding us back. If we will be brave enough to listen to our intuition and follow it when it gently encourages us to take a risk, we have the potential to discover something incredible about ourselves.

We can do so much more than we think we can, in all areas of life. Fear is rooted in something that happened to us once, and we panic that it will happen again, so we try to avoid it at all costs. This often stops us from doing other things which would be very good for us if only we could master our fear. I'm trying to re-write my specific fears by telling myself that I can do what I long told myself I couldn't do.

It tends to be one step forward and one step back, but making any progress at all when you are stuck is a good thing. I don't like to be stagnant and I certainly don't want to move backwards. I want to go forward, and keep stretching and growing, and discovering all of the things I am meant to accomplish. Feeling things more deeply and opening up my heart willingly in my relationships is part of this process.

Our instincts belong to us. They are designed to warn us when we are on the wrong path, and to help us recognize safe people for us, and to give us a nudge when we are becoming stagnant in our growth. Fine-tuning my intuition and letting it lead me takes a lot of courage that I don't always possess, but if I look back over the times I've let it nose ahead, like a horse given its lead, I find it hasn't steered me wrong.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Tonight is the finale of the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights on NBC. Global played the ninety minute finale last week so I was able to cry my goodbye tears a little earlier than the Americans as the curtain went down on this amazing series. It's about football, which I have less than zero interest in, but it's really about relationships, and the kind of real people that you don't often find on television.

If you have never heard of Friday Night Lights, or you have shied away from it because you don't care about football, I'm here to beg you to reconsider. If you rent or buy all five seasons, you will have so much incredible television in front of you and I know you won't be sorry. No other series can hold a candle to the writing and the performances on Friday Night Lights.

Watching the finale, I was moved to tears in so many places, and I really didn't want to say goodbye to these characters who had become so familiar and recognizable to me. The show reminds you of your youth, in the best possible way, and Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami are the best fictional parents I've ever seen.

The show never backed away from difficult topics. It handled everything from teenage pregnancy to juvenile delinquency to divorce and did so without once flinching or providing an easy answer. I learned a lot from watching Eric and Tami parent, and it gave me hope for the teen years with my own children.

The marriage between the coach and his wife was also an area of inspiration because it deftly portrayed the kind of endless compromise and support which is the hallmark of all healthy and successful marriages. It's never easy, but actually possible to have this kind of a relationship, and to see it week after week in this show planted new hope in my heart.

As I try to write better screenplays and stories, I stand and salute the writers, producers and directors of Friday Night Lights. If at the end of my career I can be even half as good at portraying real life with all of its pain and flaws and inspiration, I'll be more than satisfied. It's important to have something to aim for, and I'm aiming for the kind of writing that made Friday Night Lights stand out from everything else I've ever seen on network television.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Power to Parent Seven

This is the seventh in a series on Thursdays detailing some of the high points from the Dr. Gordon Neufeld DVD series Power to Parent. This session was one of my favourites, as it explains counterwill, and offers strategies for dealing with resistance without sabotaging the relationship. Understanding the counterwill instinct has improved my relationships with my kids, and my husband, and given me insight into why I resist any form of coercion exerted on me.

Counterwill is a defensive reaction to any perceived coercion, be it physical, behavioural, emotional, cognitive or psychological. None of us like to be pushed around or forced to do something against our will. Counterwill is our natural human instinct against someone else's will being more important than ours. We automatically rebel when we sense that this is happening.

Counterwill is an important attachment instinct. It protects against outside influence and direction. Coercion happens outside of the proximity of the relationship, when you haven't been collected first. Our will should not be coercing someone else's. When the will is imposed outside of the context of connection, it always backfires. But inside connection, coercion isn't felt, so the power to influence is very strong.

When kids feel rewarded because they are supposed to do something, they resist. When "want to's" turn into "have to's", resistance is felt, and that is the purpose of counterwill. It's not that kids don't want what their parents want, but if the parents get there first, the kids tend not to want it anymore. When attachment is strong, counterwill is weak, and the opposite is also true.

Whenever you have immaturity, you have counterwill, unless you are in a context of connected relationship. As parents, we must continue to collect before we direct, as this lubricates the parent/child relationship. Will takes a long time to develop. Preschoolers are said to have a strong will, but they haven't had the time to develop it yet. They have a strong counterwill.

Sensitive children are very perceptive. They can read what is being expected of them and will resist if they are not connected to us (read any of my past posts about William to discover how true this is). The defense is strong, not the will, and it's defense against someone else's will.

Counterwill is a reactive instinct, not "on purpose". A child is not pushing our buttons, but rather their buttons are being pushed (which in turn pushes ours and the situation escalates). If we increase force, they increase counterwill, and if they sense the relationship could break, they will capitulate (I certainly saw this with William and it's heartbreaking when you understand what's really going on).

Dr. Neufeld offered seven steps to counterwill proof a relationship:

1. Refrain from using separation as a consequence.
2. Don't take counterwill personally.
3. Anticipate and expect to be resisted.
4. Don't make behaviour the bottom line.
5. Reflect resistance as natural and normal.
6. Keep reactions to counterwill in check.
7. Repair damage done by counterwill fallout.

We can either decrease coercion or increase attachment. Both will work to defuse the power of counterwill. When we say, "How many times have I told you..." or "I'm the boss and I say so" engages counterwill and our children don't want to obey but they do it because they feel they have to. Look for ways for them to obey without making it so hard. Understate. Use a connecting tone, and attempt to stay calm. Give your expectations in a way that won't provoke counterwill.

Think of the steering wheel on a toddler ride at a fair - the steering wheel is useless and doesn't steer the vehicle, but the toddler thinks it does and has a big grin. It keeps them involved. Subdivide your will as a parent, don't reveal where you are going, and be careful not to impose your iron will on the child. Lessen force instead of increasing it. Reduce counterwill by getting the child on your side with a good intention (more on this next Thursday).

All humans are allergic to coercion. The only thing that makes it go down easier is attachment. Any investment you make to nurture belonging, value, significance, love, and delight deepens the connection (go back to the roots of attachment from session two). When counterwill is present, we need to take one step back into the attachment, then two steps forward into the problem. Slowing down and being patient is the key (this has been hard for me to practice, but deeply valuable as a parenting skill).

When the child wants to be good for you, it melts away the resistance. The hard part is working at the attachment. Parental reactions to counterwill cause massive insecurity in children. We can't take it personally, and we must address the root of the problem. Children are meant to be immature, and we are meant to be mature, and to show them the way through these relationship dynamics. If you can make sense of counterwill, it will change your dynamic between parent and child.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Recently I've been enjoying the freedom of being unconnected to what other people say or do. Instead of getting angry and having someone else's actions ruin my day, I can now stand back and be slightly more objective about the situation. Unless it is my choice or under my own sphere of influence or control, I don't have to do anything when other people act.

For most of my life, I had an unhealthy connection to what others did. If someone close to me was upset or angry, so was I. If someone I knew made a fool out of themselves, I felt embarrassed. If I was irritated by someone, it would take over all of my emotions until that was all I could feel.

Even typing it now makes me shake my head and wonder why anyone would place their emotional stability in the hands of someone else. It's beyond stupid, but somewhere along the line we learn certain behaviours and we stick with them. They get us by in difficult circumstances, and long after we should have outgrown the need for those skills, it has become an unconscious habit and we end up in lifelong slavery to it.

Unless of course we become aware of what we are doing. It's always rooted somewhere. There is a cause and effect relationship for everything we do, and if we can tie our behaviour back to something, we can become aware of it in a new way and make changes. It takes a lot of practice and courage to change, especially when our pattern begins in childhood and is therefore well cemented by the time we reach adulthood.

Counseling for me has provided so many "aha!" moments where I can connect the dots between what I do now with why I originally started behaving a certain way. There is always a reason. Locating that reason provides an epiphany which can free us from blindly following our impulses. We can make better choices for the stage of life we are in, and for the relationships we have built. We don't have to do what we've always done before, particularly when the reason we acted that way is no longer valid in our life.

Hinging my emotions to my own experience and not everyone else's is freedom of an entirely new sort. It gives me back the control of my own life, and provides me with a better perspective on what other people are doing. Everyone has the right to make their own choices, and each person must live with their consequences. I will live with mine, but I will not live with other people's. We must each carry our own backpack with our own individual rocks, but never again will I fill my pack with someone else's rocks and expect myself to carry that extra weight.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Inspiration is a Process

I'm coming to understand that inspiration comes and goes of its own accord, and it is much easier to ride the gentle waves instead of trying to force it to go your way. In counseling I learned this lesson about life in general, which is where surrender enters in, but for the creative process it is equally important.

I have always been queen of the to-do list. I would make my list, and power through it, feeling immense satisfaction when I could cross something off. The problem with making a to-do list for creative pursuits is that you don't factor in the ebbs and flows of the inspiration process. I'm still making lists, but when I feel like doing something on my list, I find it goes much easier than when I just want to accomplish the task.

Waiting for the impulse to do something creative is a new thought for me, but I'm testing it out and finding that it really does work. On a certain day, I might get the urge to sketch out my author website, and another day I might explore a new idea for a story or a screenplay. Or maybe I finally feel like updating the school books for each of my children.

It's not easy for me to wait for inspiration to strike. I prefer to be proactive in the way I approach these things, but it's a bit like fighting against the current not to wait until the creative inspiration flows. The key is to tap into what is happening, not try to make it happen. This is the best kind of creativity, because it comes from somewhere outside of my own ambition and drive, and has a purity and beauty all its own.

Monday, July 11, 2011


When we were at the stampede last week, waiting in line for the Superdogs show to start, there were three adults behind us who complained virtually the whole time. "This is ridiculous," they said, "Why won't they let us go in and sit down?" They sighed heavily, and when one complained, the next one agreed, and then the third would chime in with a new version of the same complaint.

We were in a great mood when we got in that line, with the kids crazy excited to see the Superdogs do their tricks, and after ten minutes in that line we all started to feel the weight of the endless bitching and moaning from these people. It was all I could do not to turn to them and say, "No one is forcing you to watch this free show. If you don't want to stand in line with the hundreds of people who are all waiting, then please leave."

Actually, I didn't want to be that polite. I wanted to put my fist in their faces, or do a lot of inappropriate yelling or cursing, but I knew that saying anything at all would pour more fuel on their particular fire. It wasn't up to me to correct their behaviour. What I actually hated the most was recognizing myself in their complaining. I used to be a terrible whiner, and feel shafted at the smallest thing, and sigh my way through a lot of unpleasant experiences.

No one likes waiting in the sun for twenty-five minutes to watch a bunch of dogs run through hoops. It's not fun for anyone, but complaining certainly doesn't make it any better. The Calgary Stampede didn't owe any of us anything. We stood in line so we could get good seats, because our kids wanted to see this show, and we had the choice of whether to complain or to suck it up and wait it out.

Complaining uses up a lot of energy, and it tends to make everything seem terrible and unfair and awful. I know that we didn't get into the cool auditorium a second faster by complaining. Our attitude didn't affect the outcome one iota, but it greatly impacted our attitude. I felt sorry for the people behind me because they were so overtly unhappy. I kept up a string of chatter with the kids about what the show was going to be like, and the rides they were going to go on after, and how good the mini donuts were going to taste. I tried hard to get away from the negativity, but it wasn't an easy task, as it becomes a vortex that can easily drag you down.

I'm glad that I can see the difference now between negativity and positivity. One has the power to be a buzz kill and the other makes you feel good. It's the same energy, used in entirely different ways. I spent too many years looking for something to complain about, and you don't ever have to look far, but now I want to see what is good about any given situation and focus on that. There are two sides to every coin, and I want the one that brings me peace and joy instead of criticism and negativity.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Health is something I tend to take for granted on any given day. Unless I'm sick, I don't think about the gift that being healthy is. Right now I have two friends facing some serious health concerns. These are young mothers who shouldn't have to carry these heavy burdens, and there is nothing anyone can do to make it better for them.

We can pray, and we are, and offer practical support, which we do, but beyond that, it's not in our hands. Life is not fair, and I have no idea why the axe comes down on some people and leaves others unscathed. This is God's territory, not mine, but I don't understand these things and would like more answers than I can seem to find.

I've been learning about surrender. Letting go of my own sense of control, and of justice, and all of the ways that the world could function better than it does. Some days I see nothing but beauty when I look around me, and other days, nothing but brokenness and pain. I have to believe that God's heart is breaking too, but if he's truly in control of this world, couldn't he make some changes so it's easier for us?

But maybe easier isn't the answer. Possibly it's like parents watching their kids blunder through life and make the kind of mistakes which will teach far deeper lessons than us opening our mouths and talking. Some things we have to experience. But life-threatening illness and disease? Is it really necessary to walk that path and have to learn that painful of a lesson?

I have no idea why some people get sick and others stay healthy. Even if you do everything "right" by eating well and exercising and getting eight hours of sleep at night, you aren't guaranteed to avoid cancer or any other illness. We tell ourselves differently so that we won't panic, but these friends of mine don't deserve what is happening to them, and I have no idea what to say or do to make any sense of it at all.

I'm trying to find peace by living in the grey areas and not needing everything to be black and white. It's easier said than done. I would prefer that things make sense to me; that I have some semblance of control in my life. Even if I don't, I want to feel that I do. I know in my mind that there are no guarantees, and every time I hug my kids or kiss my husband or enjoy a heart-to-heart with a good friend, I want to treasure those moments.

I wish I had something more solid to offer these friends than my prayers, and my outrage on their behalf, and my listening ear. It comes down to community, and love, and giving what we can to each other. It's about investment. We must put something into our relationships, so we build up substance there, for we never know when we will need the support of others in our life. For today, I'm so grateful for my health, and I pray hard for those I love who are facing specialists and diagnoses, and the kind of huge worries that I can only imagine.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hold Loosely

Jason has me watching The Pacific with him this summer. I watched Band of Brothers with him years ago, and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, so here I am watching another mini-series about World War II. It's difficult to even wrap my mind around the sacrifices required of extremely young men in the horrors of hand-to-hand combat. The bravery and courage demonstrated in the face of death and destruction is beyond inspiring.

Watching this mini-series has me thinking about the fine line between holding loosely to what we own, and even our very lives, but still giving our hearts away and loving others in order to be deeply connected to each other. It's a challenging line to walk. I have learned that I am not in control of most of what happens to me, but I can always manage my reaction to what comes. I'm trying to be vulnerable and open to change while not demanding my own rights the way I used to.

I know that there is immense freedom in letting go of my tight hold on things, but at the same time I want to give more of myself away, and invest in relationships which last forever. But when you give your heart to the ones you love, you always, always risk it being broken. It wouldn't hurt so badly to lose a person if you didn't love them with everything inside of you, but if you hold yourself back and stay frozen in your heart, you miss out on too much.

I don't know what the answer is here. I know that being real is better than pretending. I know that love is better than hate. I know that letting go is important, but so is vulnerability in relationships. It's better to be hurt and subsequently heal than to hold yourself back from being loved, even if the price seems too high to bear sometimes.

Watching these fictionalized soldiers bond to each other in horrifyingly awful circumstances, fighting to keep each other alive and close, has moved me. I have it so easy by comparison, and yet I must still choose to risk my heart in my relationships on a daily basis. Loving my kids and my family and friends with all that is in me means I could lose a lot, but it has to be better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

At the same time that I'm learning to give my heart more freely, and not protect myself behind thick walls, I'm also discovering that I can hold loosely to my expectations. Thinking I was ever fully in control of my own life was a misnomer. I am not. Things happen that I would never plan or design, and I must react to them, and not stress out about what is beyond the realm of my control. There is a freedom which dwells inside of this, and it has released me from the prison cell I used to live in.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Calgary Stampede

For the five years we've lived in Alberta, we've always gone to the Sneak a Peek at the Calgary Stampede, for several reasons: I hate crowds, I'm cheap, and we believe in experiencing the culture where you live. I'm amazed at the number of people who have never taken their kids to the Stampede, as it has become a big part of our family summer tradition, and a key building block in what my kids will remember of their childhood.

When Jason and I lived in the greater Vancouver area, we always attended the Pacific National Exhibition in late August because it seemed to be a quintessential part of the lower mainland experience. Sure, it costs money, but it's so much fun, particularly in Calgary where the whole city goes cowboy-crazy for ten days.

I don't think I was as conscious of the process of building my children's memories when Ava was very small, but as they have grown, I've enjoyed looking at the different traditions we have established, and feel proud of the impact these annual events are having on their minds and emotions. Traditions anchor our memories to something solid and sure, provided the feeling around them is happy and not stressful or painful.

It's fun to look for more things to add into our rotation. They don't have to cost money. They just have to be regular, and enjoyable, and the expectations have to be kept reasonable for the age of each child. I have had to work at this, but I'm slowly improving. I used to daydream about what an event would be like, and fail to factor in the tired toddler having a meltdown, and my daydream would crash into reality and they would not be at all the same thing.

I try to plan for the best and expect that if it goes sideways, we'll still have a story for our collective family history. As they get older it becomes easier. There is no more baby equipment to haul around, or allowance for naps, and very few meltdowns. Now we can stay out later and do more all together, which is a beautiful stage to be in.

My kids are also old enough to remember these events from year to year, and say, "Remember that time we had deep fried oreos on the midway" or "I loved that ride last year and I want to go on it again!" Each memory becomes another layer in their childhood experience, and it's so fun to share it with them.

Sneak-a-Peek only costs $8 for gate admission (kids 6 and under are free) and you can get 56 credits on a ride pass for $36 at Safeway. After $20 for parking, the only other cost is for food. That's why I love attending on the Thursday night before Stampede really gets going, because I feel like I'm saving money, and there are no lines for the dream home or Superdogs or anything we like to watch or ride. It's relatively quiet, and I've always felt safe, and we have so much fun that I try not to sweat the twenties flying out of my wallet for mini donuts, frozen lemonade or fish and chips for dinner. It's all worth it in the end.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Power to Parent Six

I loved this session, which gave me a new understanding of aggression. What it is, and where it comes from, and some strategies for dealing with it. This session alone has radically changed how I view conflict in my relationships, and lessened my panic when my kids misbehave. After this, there are only two more sessions in Gordon Neufeld's Power to Parent DVD course, over the next two Thursdays.

Frustration is the emotion which drives aggression. Not anger. Frustration is a primary emotion where something doesn't work. Anger has a judgement component to it (blaming someone, saying it's someone else's fault) but frustration comes when what you are trying to do no longer works.

Attachments that are not working is the biggest source of frustration for kids. This is actually true for all of us, regardless of your age. Seeing a child as frustrated should fundamentally change our behaviour as parents.

Frustration is the engine of aggression. When something doesn't work, our first impulse is to change it. We want to change ourselves, others, or circumstances. If we weren't frustrated, we wouldn't try to change anything, but there are a lot of things that children are unable to change.

If we can't change, then we must adapt, or come to terms with the situation. A maze is used to understand this as it's blind and complex and you start in the middle and try to find your way out. If you can't, futility becomes registered in your brain, and this frustration energy settles and then re-distributes.

When futility sinks in, our brains develop. Tears come automatically from recognizing futility. These tears have been tested in laboratories and they are different from onion tears or pain tears. Futility tears come from keen disappointments. Children need these tears and feelings of deep futility in order to move into maturity.

If we can't change the situation, we must move to futility in order to adapt. If you can't move from frustration to futility through tears and acceptance, you move from frustration to aggression. Frustration is over if you can effect change, feel sad or have mixed feelings (frustrated but conflicted, i.e. "My sister makes me so mad I want to punch her in the face, but I love her too"). You need the mix, so you are ambivalent, with part of you wanting to fight, but the other part wanting to avoid getting in trouble.

Mixed feelings are good, and session 8 goes into more detail about the importance of mixed feelings when parenting. At five to seven years old, children find their temperment, and the ability to process and understand mixed feelings. Before this, their brains are not developed enough to understand mixed feelings, which is why preschoolers tend to turn frustration into aggression very quickly.

Kids need clarity on what can work and what will not work. This is how they learn to adapt. When a child is sad and disappointed, we must allow this. We must make room for sadness. Sadness and disappointment are vulnerable feelings. Where there is a lot of aggression, it's the "dry-eyed syndrome" where tears of futility have been lost.

Usually we give consequences when kids attack, and we are intentionally frustrating them, which adds more fuel to the fire. We may flood a child with frustration so they will be moved to tears, but if they have lost their tears, it makes for aggression. Aggression is not a behavioural problem, it is an emotional one.

It's important not to take our children's frustrations personally. It's better to focus on the frustration instead of the acting-out behaviour. We can say things like, "You wanted mommy to do this and it's frustrating that I said no." Frustration is existential - it is with us all of the time. We can give our kids permission to be frustrated, but not to attack. We must back out of the incident and get back into the relationship. The relationship is okay. It can stretch us as parents to every ounce of maturity and beyond, but we must lean on our own temperment, and not react to the incident.

The brain is wired to get rid of that foul frustration energy. Dr. Neufeld drew a picture of a traffic circle to describe it. You enter at frustration, and you hope to exit at change. If you can't change the situation, you move on to adaptation, provided you can cry tears of futility before you hit the adaptation exit. If you can't feel the futility and learn to adapt, then you move to attack.

Simply saying, "Don't hit" isn't going to cut it when the child's brain has ordered them to attack in order to get rid of the frustration energy. You can ask yourself, "What isn't working for this child, and can I help them change it?" If you can't change it, then you must get them to the futility stage, so adaptation happens instead of aggression. Support their sadness. Resist the urge to negotiate - give your reasons after the child has realized it's futile to resist.

If the child wants a cookie five minutes before dinner, you can say no and be the agent of futility, but then you can move to the angel role by saying, "You really wanted that cookie." Let them cry and comfort them. Children need to come to the still point, where they are no longer trying to change you or the situation. If you can find the sadness, the aggression goes away. You must feel the pain of what you cannot change.

We have to soften our kids if they don't go immediately to tears. Tears are good. Soft hearts are good. We can work at getting mixed feelings, after we've removed them from the immediacy of the situation. Anywhere you find mixed feelings, you find the ability to develop the front cortex of the brain which helps the child deal with frustration ("I'm scared to go on the bus for the first time but I'm also excited about going to the zoo with my class").

To treat an aggression problem, we need first to tend to the relationship. We can get on the same side of the frustration and give our child the sense that we are on his or her side. We don't want to be adversarial with our kids. We are all on the same side. Understanding this traffic circle of frustration, and the value of soft hearts and tears of futility, has really helped me become a better parent, and recognize frustration when I see it, giving permission to feel sad and disappointed, and adapt to what cannot be changed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Puzzle Pieces

I see our lives as gigantic puzzles. Some sections are completed and behind us, and others have the pieces scattered every which way, and you have no idea how the picture will look when it's all pieced together. This is where age and maturity makes a big impact. You can see some sections coming together, and remember how frustrating it was to find the pieces that fit together, but how satisfying it felt to hear them snap into place.

There are mini-pictures which make up the bigger image in the puzzle. A face appears, or a lake or road, and what made no sense to you before now appears recognizable. I've been doing this with my childhood. Things happen to each of us, and we have to put it into some kind of perspective so we can understand it. Then the picture begins to emerge, and we can use what we learn in other areas of our lives.

I feel like a lot of my loose and damaged puzzle pieces are coming together this summer and forming a picture which is useful to me. It's a quiet and peaceful process, well received after the stormy season which proceeded it. The chaos is always hard to manage, but when the pieces slot into place, there is a calm which descends, and your own life makes sense to you again, but in an entirely new way.

Courage is required to see this process through. There are many times I wanted to stop in the middle, because that's always what I've done before. When the going got really hard, I tended to burrow back into my comfortably dark hole and stop the work of digging toward the light. This past year I went back to counseling and found the support and encouragement I needed to continue. I didn't want to stay stuck where I was. I wanted to push through, and it was at once the hardest and the best thing I've ever done.

It's by no means done, but I'm hoping that the hardest parts of this particular section of my puzzle have been completed. The scary ghosts in the closet are not as frightening with the full light of day shining on them. The secrets have been forced out into the open, and defining what had been secret for so long has liberated me.

Writing has been my saviour this year. It has provided a place for me to shuffle these pieces around until they made sense and could be connected together. One piece needs the next, and the next, in order to complete the mini-picture. Feeling the joy of seeing it come together has brought me peace, and I'm incredibly grateful I didn't quit at the lowest point.

Perseverance is a tremendous gift. Simply walking with one foot in front of the other when we would rather lie down in the fetal position builds our character. If we want to teach these life skills to our kids, it's better to live them out ourselves. Talk is cheap. Action is everything.

This seems like a suitable place to thank you once again for reading. If you read every day and you haven't taken the time to create a Google account with a name and e-mail address, please do, so I have some idea how many people are reading regularly. It also means so much for me to hear from you in the comments or on my Facebook writing page if something you read has touched you, moved you, or even if you heartily disagree with me! Anytime you pass along my site to a friend, I'm so grateful as I'm trying to grow my readers.

Thank you for your support. The words are too small to express how I feel, but there are only so many words for gratitude. You've made sections of my puzzle come together into sharp focus since I began this blogging experiment, and without readers, I would've been simply writing these thoughts in my own journal, and not widening the circle to include others. Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing my writing with others. Thank you for being part of my personal puzzle.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Individual Paths

Recently, I've become overwhelmed with the deluge that is social media. I have to rein myself in from checking Facebook and Twitter all of the time, and then I end up panicking that I'm falling behind if I don't see what is going on. There are aspects of social media which I love, but one thing I hate is the pressing urge for more information, and then the sense that I am not keeping up with everyone else and should know more than I do.

There are so many choices in the world we live in. Everywhere we turn we have options, each one more enticing than the last, and we have to learn to sift the wheat from the chaff or we will go nuts. I worry about teaching my kids the value of focusing on one thing at a time when everyone around them is multi-tasking like crazy. We eat, sleep and breathe multiple things at once now, and the end result for me is overwhelming chaos.

Every so often I must take a deep breath and talk myself down from the ledge. I need to stoke the fire of my own confidence, and recognize that I have my own plan as an author. The fact that other writers are doing things differently doesn't have to alter my plans. I wish this message would ingrain itself deeply into my psyche, and not trip me up so often.

We are all on individual paths. We are not meant to be clones of one another. When I feel strong and secure in myself, I somehow know this to be true, and I don't have to work so hard at believing it. But when I immerse myself in social media, and see all of the "how to" articles on being a better writer, and five great ways to promote yourself more effectively, I begin to doubt what I'm doing, and look to the left and to the right when it should be eyes front.

Putting one foot in front of the other and making decisions which are right for me should be at the top of my agenda. It's just so easy to get lost in the myriad of information available to us at the speed of light, and it's never hard to lose sight of our focus. Things get blurry when we become too fixated on what other people are doing. There is certainly a time and place to learn from what is working and what isn't for other people, but sometimes we need to trust our own gut, and not worry when our path diverges from the next person's.

I need to be stricter with myself when it comes to social media. Perhaps I need a day off every week, or finish surfing Facebook and Twitter at a certain point each day, like 7 pm when my kids go to bed. Getting an iPhone has had many obvious benefits, but a key drawback is that I end up taking it with me to the couch in the evening, and when I should be unwinding and reading or watching a movie, I end up multi-tasking and essentially still working while I should be relaxing.

I have to remember that I am in charge of my various electronic devices, and not the other way around. I can opt out, at any time, and not be any poorer for it. The panic that I will fall behind exists only in my mind. Social media is there to connect us, not enslave us, and I need to prioritize the personal interactions in my life and not spend valuable time staring at my phone or laptop when my kids or husband or friends are talking to me.

Monday, July 4, 2011


I am enjoying the somewhat strange sensation of happiness. It is descending slowly, brushing up against my soul and inviting me to relax into its gentle ebb and flow. After walking uphill for a long time, emotionally speaking, it feels like ice cold water on a boiling hot day to feel this happy right now.

A curious thing occurred when I offered myself permission to unwind and relax this summer. I began to notice everything in much sharper detail. I walk into a room now and I see the contours and nuances where I wasn't aware of them before. I notice the smell and the feel of a new place. I am present where before I was rushing, worrying about the next thing. Slowing all of that down has brought peace, and a fresh awareness of what is beautiful and good, and instead of barely registering the background laughter of my kids I'm now joining in.

The result is a banquet for the senses, and on the coattails of that luxurious spread rides happiness. The great Anne Lamott says, "Laughter is carbonated holiness." That was just a phrase to me before, but now I see exactly what she meant. There is a lightness of spirit which comes with certain times in our lives, and where laughter and happiness reside, so does a sense of the sacred.

I am soaking up this time, like a cat does in the sun, for I know it fades. This last year has been so hard, and exhausting, and turbulent with change, that this break feels sweet, and necessary. It's the thunderstorm after the heat wave. It's relief from more strain. I'm standing at a peak on the climb, and the sun is breaking over the water, and I can glimpse how far I've actually come.

I'm learning to enjoy things as they come. The good times don't last, but neither do the terrifyingly bad ones. It's one step at a time, as the addicts say, and I am a recovering people-pleaser who is finding my way in a new landscape where I have boundaries in place to protect me.

I feel a surge of gratitude for the battles which have already been won, and I hope this will give me strength for the ones that I can't see coming on the horizon. I will take this joy, and tuck it close to my heart, for it comes with a sense of self that I couldn't have attained without fighting hand-to-hand combat. It was worth the fight, and this happiness may be fleeting, but while it's here I'm going to drink it all in, and store it up for the lean times.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Good Instead of Bad

Not long ago, at our church homegroup, my pastor threw out a question which I've been pondering since then. It was, "What if we are essentially good instead of bad?" For most of my life, I've been taught that we are full of sin, and bad to the bone (for lack of a more original term) and that Jesus came to save us from our evil ways.

This has been so ingrained in me that his question was met with initial resistance. "We can't possibly be born good, because how do you explain all of the horrible things in the world?" He answered that question with, "Brokenness. We are damaged, and broken, and make choices which aren't healthy because that's the world we live in. But if we are created by God, in his image, and he is perfect, why are we not good instead of bad?"

I've been thinking about this, and I don't understand how it all works. Something in me likes the idea that I'm not a worm, crawling around on the ground feeling shame and guilt, the way I once understood to be true for all of humanity. Perhaps I am actually beautiful at my core, and can make choices which lead to kindness, love and mercy instead of cruelty, competition and hatred. It's all in the slant of our perspective.

My pastor has been speaking for months now about heaven as another dimension of our world, similar to Narnia in the C.S. Lewis books. Somewhere along the line, Christians got the idea that heaven is some otherworldly place with spirits floating around worshiping 24/7. I find it hard to wrap my mind around that idea because it's so foreign to the life we are living now.

At church, we've been looking at the ideas that the first century Jewish culture were steeped in. They understood death and the afterlife as a kind of continuation of life on earth. They saw the earth as beautiful and good and that one day, it would be restored. I like the idea that what we do here matters and has eternal value. Since I haven't died yet, I have no way to know what any of this might look like, but I would like to still be myself, anchored in who I am and with some kind of body, instead of just floating around all perfect-like.

Perfection is so hard to understand, but the more I work on my inner life, and feel what healing can do for the hurts that have been done to me and that I have done to others, I begin to dream that maybe this kind of world could happen one day for everyone. I have no idea how. For now it's just a dream, but I think maybe it might be tied into the idea that God loves us as we are, and that we are not sniveling evil creatures but instead full of possibility and beauty, even in the midst of all of the bad choices that we are capable of making.

This idea fills me with hope. It draws me instantly closer to God. Coming to terms with the idea that he is not angry with me has liberated me from many of my fears and self-loathing. It has washed my perspective with soft colour instead of living in a greyed-out world. It is the language of optimism and health and hope for a future which is more cohesive than the present chaos we live in. I want to dream that one day there will be a wholeness to this world, and to who I am, and that to me is a picture of heaven which brings me joy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Friendship Value

I've spent a lot of time in the last six months thinking about friendship. Why it works, and what to do when it doesn't, and what makes up a good friend. In this process, I discovered that quality is significantly more important than quantity. I didn't get this at all when I was younger. I was considered a social butterfly, and had a lot of friends, but it was easy to be liked because I made certain there was no reason people wouldn't like me.

Of course, I had fights with my friends, and I had one childhood best friend who I still have to this day. We've had many ups and downs, and differences of opinion, but we've stuck it out and our friendship has endured. I have a friend from high school who is still a good friend, and many from university and my early twenties, even though we are now literally scattered across the globe.

I love Facebook for keeping in regular touch with these friends. It's fast and easy to engage in snippets of conversation and see each other's current lives through pictures and status updates. It's not the meat of relationships, but when we see each other, we pick up as if no time at all has gone by. That is valuable to me. Longevity and roots in relationships ground us when we move or life becomes stressful. In upheaval, we tend to know who our real friends are.

Setting relationship boundaries in the last six months has radically altered the lines of some of my newer friendships. I began to see things I didn't like in a few of my relationships. I didn't like what I felt I had to do to be accepted. These friendships were exhausting. I worked all of the time to help and anticipate needs and I never felt like it was enough. I know that my own brokenness played a part in what wasn't working in these relationships, and I was willing to take responsibility for that, but the price was too high for me to continue.

Learning to live in a world where I stood up for myself and ended up making enemies was extremely difficult. It felt uncomfortable all of the time. My sense of value and worth was tied up in what other people thought of me, and did not reside in who I am. Changing that was one of the best things I've ever done, but it meant making some difficult decisions about the relationships I was in.

All change is hard. It hurts, and makes you doubt yourself, and many times I had to be talked down from the ledge by those friends who were still standing by me. When the dust settled, I saw who I could trust, for better or for worse, and hung on to those friends like a shipwreck survivor clings to driftwood in the middle of the ocean. I was adrift, but found strength in who I am, and knew that I could never go back to my old people-pleasing ways.

I am an entirely new version of myself now, but those long-time friends who knew me before have adapted to my changes. There are some rough points in that journey, but if we love each other and forgive one another for our shortcomings, and we can see that the new person is stronger and healthier than the previous one, the friendship can grow stronger.

I have looked at myself in this time period as well, and know I want to judge less and accept more about my friends. I have been hard to please in the past, and have withheld my truest feelings in order to keep the peace, and I don't think I was being a good friend when I did that.

Now I can practice being the kind of friend I've always wanted to be. Supportive, loving, genuine, and gentle in my requests. I don't want to make demands, or have demands dictated to me. True friendship is too valuable for that, and I want to treat it with respect for the treasure that it is.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Celebrating Canada

Today is Canada Day, and we have another chance to celebrate how grateful we are to live in a country which is free, and rich (in both dollars and resources), and full of beautiful wide-open spaces. When Ava was a newborn, I remember sitting in the rocking chair in the dead of night while she nursed, weeping as my thoughts turned to all of the babies in third world countries or orphanages who cried because they were hungry and no one came to hold them, feed them or love them.

I'm embarrassed to say that eight years ago, when Ava was an infant, was one of the first times that I really considered the pain and suffering of other humans. I think I was just so happily sheltered as a Canadian kid, teen and young adult before that time, taking for granted all that was so easily given to me. Having my own baby, and responding to her primal needs, awakened the idea that not all babies in all places would have that certainty of care, and it quite literally broke my heart.

Since that time, I've been appreciative of Canada in an entirely new way. We have so much, and with such prosperity comes a rigid sense of entitlement, and often disillusionment when you strive for success and find it, only to discover it doesn't meet the deepest needs of your soul. It's a double-edged sword. We have so much, and yet we want more. Then we get more, and we find it doesn't satisfy the way we thought it would.

Our expectations have the potential to crush us at any given time. If we lived in a place where gunfire was heard regularly or we had no ability to plan for our next meal, our priorities would be radically different. Instead, most of us have more than many people in other countries, but we end up jealous of our neighbour who drives a newer car than we do or has trendier clothes or takes flashier vacations.

I'm not preaching here because I am dead guilty of all of this. I know I'm not as grateful as I'd like to be for all that I have. I want to hold loosely to my possessions and my sense of success because I know that what we don't carry inside of us tarnishes and can be lost at any given time. I hate competing with others and feeling like I'm either losing or winning, as neither experience is a positive one.

Awareness is important. I am glad I had that profound moment of truth when Ava was a tiny baby, because it changed me somehow, and made me notice more around me. I can cultivate a sense of gratitude instead of entitlement. This goes against the grain of our culture, but I can't teach this to my children if I don't thoroughly believe it myself, so I work on it.

Like everything, it's a process, but today, as we go to Banff to celebrate living in this beautifully free nation, I am profoundly aware of how much we have been given. I feel incredible joy to be a Canadian, and today is a day to celebrate that.