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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why Does Christmas Matter?

This past Sunday Caleb was asked to close out the Kids' Christmas Program with a short talk.  He and I collaborated on it a bit and so I'll put it here in case anyone wants to read it.  This is the unedited version - his was a bit shorter.

Why Does Christmas Matter?

In this season of Advent we wait - looking ahead to Christmas day - the day we remember and celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus.  For us kids, front and center of our minds is of course the presents we look forward to opening - and the goodies, sweets, treats and desserts that we will enjoy in the coming weeks.  For many of us, we imagine sipping hot chocolate by a warm, softly glowing fire and the songs of children - singing of truths we can hardly grasp in our own minds.  The songs we have sung and played today contain meanings and depths we can only hope to someday begin to understand.
The birth of Jesus means more than a tree, presents, lights and fancy feasts.  So, let's explore, and ask ourselves this question: Why does Christmas matter?

For school I had to memorize the first 4 stanzas of John Milton's Poem: On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.  This amazing work reflects on Christ's birth and what this means for us.

After reflecting on what Christmas means, I'd like to quote the fourth stanza and invite you to worship at Christ's feet - Who was born, taking on human flesh, lived and died and rose again to secure our salvation.  In this stanza we are invited to race to the manger - beating the magi - and being the first to greet the newborn Saviour:

See, how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at His blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
From out His secret altar touched with hallowed fire.

Later, in the poem Milton describes how nature takes a back seat at Christ's birth when the sun refused to take its place:

And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The Sun himself withheld his wonted speet
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferior flame;
He saw a greater sun appear
Than his bright throne,
Or burning axle-tree could bear.

Even further on Milton describes what Christ's birth means: 'Yea Truth and Justice then,
                                                                                                    Will down return to men.'

"And Heav'n at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.
But wisest Fate says no; This must not yet be so,
The babe lies yet in smiling infancy,
That on the bitter cross,
Must redeem our loss;
So both Himself and us to glorify."

These words, expressed poetically, can be obscure and hard to grasp at first glance: Heaven opening her gates? We'd think, "Yay! Heaven opens to us!"  But the poet goes on to say, "This must not yet be so."  I emphasize 'yet' - he isn't saying heaven won't ever open - but that up to this point in the nativity narrative, it hasn't happened yet.  He goes on to explain, 'The babe lies yet in smiling infancy' - Jesus, still a baby in the manger, has not yet fulfilled His earthly mission: That on the bitter cross, Must redeem our loss.  Christmas matters because it is the dawning of the Gospel - the revelation of hope and reconciliation between God and man.  Jesus' birth is holy, awesome, quiet, humble, pure.  His enfleshment - wearing our skin - feeling our brokenness and shame is the beginning of a work that led Him all the way to the cross.  In many ways this is a very sad story - the pain, the suffering, the agony and loss He was to face are horrifying to consider.  But in the sadness we are met with a redeeming hope - and are inspired to worship and adore Christ the newborn King - Who became a suffering servant, a sympathetic high priest and our serf-sacrificing redeemer.  As one hymn puts it: 'Love came down at Christmas' - only divine love could enter our world so humbly and so miraculously.

My Mom tells me her favourite Christmas song is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.  The title doesn't present much of its rich content: an announcement of angels - sounds basic enough.  But the reason it is such a powerful song isn't because the angels are 'harking' us to hear their message.  It's because of the message ITSELF.  And it answers for us the question: Why Does Christmas Matter?

It matters because we are a people in need: we need peace: "Peace on earth and mercy mild."  And because we are sinners in need of reconciling with our Creator and God: "God and sinners reconciled."

Christmas matters because we needed an agent - a mediator - a worthy representative to open the way for us to know God as our own - as our Father.  Only a perfect, fully human person could intercede for us: we find our need met in Jesus: "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: Hail the incarnate Deity.  Pleased as man with us to dwell: Jesus our Immanuel."

Thirdly, Christmas matters because we need hope and the birth of Christ means we can have true hope.  We enter life needy and helpless.  Jesus entered our world, taking on our very skin - our very human experience.  Many of us find our world a confusing, dark, complicated and sad place - a place of pain and suffering.  Jesus tells us He is the Light of the world - and in His light is life.  Not only do we face sickness in our flesh but in our spirits also.  And Jesus' birth brings hope - Light dawns in the darkness.  His death brings healing - for our sin-sick souls; and His resurrection brings life to us: "Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings."

Oh how very much we need this Light, this life, this reconciling, THIS healing.
Scripture tells us, "Born this day, a Saviour."  This Saviour is the One we worship and celebrate at Christmas.

He is why Christmas matters.

Thank you for joining with us today as we anticipate the coming of Christmas day.  Happy Advent!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reflections on Death...and therefore, Life

These past months I have been reminded again and again of how very brief and unpredictable life is - or can be.  A man lost his life at age 27 - due to some internal conflict with his illicit activities or family members I suppose.  Every day people lose their lives - some unexpectedly, some with short warning, some with longer warning.  I am 38 - and have been given the gift of these years.  I cannot presume to expect 40-50 more of them - that is for God to decide.

I see those who have lived life fully - with purpose, love, devotion to God.  And then I see a life ended prematurely on our lawn.  The Bible tells us to 'number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.'  I don't want to be morbid in reflecting on death, but I do want to gain a heart of wisdom.  I want to embrace life - all of it.  Yet there are times I shrink back from the living of life.  Sometimes I can't help it, other times I simply lack courage (read: heartiness - full-heartedness) to walk into the full experience of life - it's pain, struggles, joys, hopes - all of it.

In these daily experiences and exposures to horror and life's brevity, I don't want to miss the opportunity to hear what God is saying: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of God stands forever."  Our lives are like withering grass.  But even in the moments of the flower of life blooming, there is beauty, fragrance and a welcoming of sunshine.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Murder on the Lawn - Part 3

There were a few things that I found troubling and disturbing.  One was the graphic nature of the incident.  The other was just the presence of police and flashing lights - these sent me back to 16 years ago in the hours following the burglary that launched our lives together.  (Here's the first part of THAT story :) )The one difference is that I sensed no fear - there were no criminals in the immediate vicinity out to do no good to us specifically.  But the tragedy, the mess, the sadness, the unexpectedness of it all - these were a burden in and of themselves.  I'm trying to keep this past tense - to reflect on it and gain distance, for my own reasons.

Back inside, we finally went to bed.  Throughout the previous couple hours we had been calm and engaged with those around us.  When our heads hit the pillow that calm somewhat vanished.  A sense of caffeine-rush washed over both of us.  We were awoken twice in the night - police checking in for various things.  I woke up at 4 a.m, to not be able to sleep again.  The following six nights were like this - nightmares and awake every couple hours.  Thankfully, I've been able to get a couple nights of more normal sleep, though nightmares persist.

The day after this happened, we learned that the man had died there on our lawn.  Initially I had hoped he might make it - and since it wasn't for us to ask or know, we weren't sure of his condition as we slept that night.

Death does not bother me.  But the violence does.  Senseless aggression.  And being exposed to it sparked a grief in me I couldn't explain away.

Here are some reflections on life, and death

Murder on the Lawn - Part 2

The man was friendly - shaking - and, to put your mind at ease, yes, there were police all over and I did not think twice about inviting him inside.

The question has been posed to me: Did you really need to go out there?  Why didn't you just let the police do their work?  Why did you get involved?  Do you have a morbid curiosity that draws you into these things?  The answer to these isn't entirely clear to me.  No, I didn't 'need' to go out there.  Was I drawn by curiosity?  Yes, no doubt.  Is it morbid curiosity?  Maybe - I can't be sure.  I didn't exactly mean to get involved - or maybe I did.  I can't examine my own tendencies at this point.  I merely saw activity and wandered out there to be of service.  I didn't take the time to think it through and decide if it was the best thing to do at the time.  I guess these are things I'm not going to know fully, so I'll let the questions remain.

Once inside I could see the man was somewhat in a state of shock - he had driven up to the stop sign, seen the man lying on our lawn and jumped out to administer CPR.  He successfully started him breathing a few times, but then he would stop.  He kept going 'til the paramedics arrived.  He took no regard for himself, or his own comfort, but stepped up to nobly administer the immediate help that was needed.  He is to be applauded for his heroism - whoever he is.  I don't know his name.

We got him to a sink and provided towels and bagged up his bloody clothes.  I offered for him to sit for a while, but he declined.  I kind of went into 'mommy-mode' - 'Can I get you some tea? Coffee? Wine?' 'Take deep breaths.  You're okay.'  That kind of thing.  As long as there is someone to look after, I can manage okay, I guess.

Once back outside I stood and waited for the police to gather our statements.  I won't repeat what I heard; it's a bit too detailed and unnecessary.  I had no statement to give other than 'I didn't see anything.'

It turns out it was a gang-related murder, which is one reason I feel so safe here (we aren't involved in gangs, thankfully).

Click Here for Part 3

Murder on the Lawn - Part 1

I'll admit it: blogging helps me process life, sometimes.  So, here I go - processing this past week.

Our neighbourhood is very safe.  We enjoy a quiet, almost country-like feel where we live - our lawn has mature pine trees and we sit a bit back from the street, but not so far back we don't see what happens out there.

Usually I am asleep at 11 p.m.  But a week ago we had a young friend over to stay the weekend.  She and I were up late chatting about general life stuff - you know how that is, I suppose.

We noticed police lights outside.  Normally I wouldn't bother checking it out.  But there were multiple emergency vehicles - three police cars, then an ambulance.  A car was stopped at our corner and three people were standing there huddled in the cold, without coats.  I grabbed shoes, as I noticed a man laying on the lawn.  I didn't want to disturb Sam, but he awoke and I merely said, "I think there's a guy passed out or dead on our front lawn.  Don't get up.  I'll be back in a few."  Of course Sam, bleary-eyed, ignored this and got up to see what was happening.  And of course I was cool-headed and just operated on a 'what-can-I-do' mentality.

I walked out to where the activity was and talked to the people gathered around.  A man was shaking and bloody and holding his hands away from himself, talking about all that had happened.  Police were there taking statements.  I offered for the man to clean up in our house.

Click here for Part 2.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Come, ye Disconsolate

A favourite hymn of mine.  I played it yesterday - here it is:

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure!
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
“Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure.”

Here see the bread of life, see waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.

I recorded myself playing it yesterday:

Click here to listen to the music.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

To the Wife who stole her husband's Doritos

Dear frustrated woman,

So you did it.  You took charge.  You showed him.  Good for you.

I understand - really, I do (on some level).  You watch him fill his body with junk.  You worry.  You beg, plead, convince, connive, determine what to do.  You love him SO much - you just wish he would consider how much you need him to be healthy - or at least try to be.

A recent blog post was written to the man who got his Doritos whipped out from under his unsuspecting nose.  He then was presented with celery and health food.

Now, it's your turn.

And I, for one, don't condone what you did.  And I'm a wife.

Let me make something clear to you: people rarely change when they are forced to.  And, when forced, the changes may be obvious and external, but rarely does inner change come about because someone was forced into it.  It CAN happen - like in prison.  But I'm not sure I'd advise it or call it ideal by any measure.

I get that you can try to control what your husband eats.  You can push for change.  You can advocate for what you'd like.  But when you do this you risk losing healthier aspects of the relationship.  Like, trust for instance.  When a person (husband OR wife) feels their spouse is trying to control them, it creates barriers in the relationship, unless you have an unusually, extremely gracious and forgiving spouse - and even then, their magnanimity may be serving as a barrier of kindness to true intimacy.

Do you want to threaten intimacy in your marriage?  (Emotional intimacy, as well as otherwise).  Then just keep trying to control what he eats.

There is a place for letting go.  There is a time to release him and allow him to be his own person who has desires, thoughts, feelings, needs, and down-time with a bag of Doritos.  I get that you love him and want him to be healthy.  But loving does not equate control.  Don't get the two confused, dear.  When you love someone you value their freedom just as much as you value yours.  No one is forcing YOU to eat Doritos.  You have freedom to eat your quinoa, avocado, celery, raw spinach salad.  Take, and eat.  And free yourself from the compulsion to control your husband.

Far better to merely be an example and inspire him with your joy in healthy eating - saying not a word of condemnation - but invite him to join you at the table, allowing him to decline if he chooses.  Far better to enrich your relationship on all other levels and let him decide how he wants to eat.  I daresay, give up the condemnation, and control mechanisms and let the poor guy live a little.  You are not in his life to micromanage his diet.

In fact, you are not in his life to micromanage anything.  I know God gave you wisdom and gifts and insights (like, about healthy eating, for one) that may be a benefit to him.  How about you wait until your husband invites your input about his diet.  You will not be content in God, yourself or your life as long as you are driven by a need to control him.  If it makes you happy that he conceded defeat and took up healthy eating just because you transformed his pantry stash of junk, you have just fed the monster within you named: CONTROL.  You are happy for a time.  But it is false.  It rests on getting your way, not on the freedom and joy that comes from releasing control.

To quote a famous song, "Let it Go."

Let me know how it goes after you've quit your compulsion - both in words and deeds - for a week, month, year or more.

I can't wait to hear what happens.


A Wife Who'd Never Steal the Doritos.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The 15 Books I'm Reading

So lately I've let it slip that I read a lot of books all at once.  I decided I needed to reign myself in a little and am limiting myself to only 15 at once.  (Sometimes I do cheat and sneak a few in that aren't on my list).  That means whenever I finish one I can then add one that I've been itching to read as an 'official' reader.  I have such broad interests and will read in one general category for a season until I feel completely maxed out or my curiosity wanes and I need a break.  My categories are almost entirely non-fiction:

human biology - specifically: the brain (neurobiology), endocrinology (related to hormones and diabetes), cancer, and anything else that strikes my fancy at the time

psychology - specifically certain disorders: learning and memory, trauma, family systems theory, borderline p.d, A.D.D., child development, PTSD, autism/asbergers, and anything related to anyone I know or come across;

history - specifically: 2nd World War, European history during early 1900's, U.S. history - lately more the civil war era, but anything American history (since I have huge gaps in my learning), Russian or/and Chinese history.

theology - I read a variety here - sometimes new stuff, but often older.  I tend to go for older books actually.  New books seem a bit suspicious to me.  Unless a friend wrote it.  Then I'll read it.

As far as fiction goes I have a lot of trouble focussing on it, but once in a while I can really get into a Louis L'Amour novel (on the lighter side) or a George MacDonald book (on the heavier side) - some of the newer re-done ones are easier, though I'll also read the old versions at times.

kid literature - sometimes I am able to take in fiction if it's aimed at a younger audience.  So I'll pick up some of the historic fiction (like imitated diaries and such) for 4-6th grade level.  Often this will spark my interest to actually go and learn more from the non-fiction side.  I guess for me fiction only serves as a stepping stool to further learning.

Right now my 15 books list is as follows:

Healing the Child Within  (Whitfield)
The Imitation of Christ  (a Kempis)
The Pressure's Off  (Crabb)
Care of the Soul (Moore)
Practicing the Presence of God (Lawrence)
Healing the 8 Stages of Life (Linns and Fabricant)
I thought it was Just Me  (Brown)
A Long Obedience (Peterson)
Healing the Shame that Binds You (Bradshaw)
The Wounded Healer  (Nouwen)
The Gifts of Imperfection (Brown)
Talking With God (Fenelon)
Intimacy (Nouwen)
Conscious Performing (Bonkrude)
Becoming Attached  (Karen)

Shortly, I'll post the books I've recently finished.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Putting Performance Ahead of the Person (Parenting Pitfall)

Lest you fall into the same errors we have as parents, let me divulge to you my latest 'aha' moment in parenting.  I call it: What You Do Matters More than Who You Are.  (Big lie, by the way).  I like to think I communicate grace, acceptance, mercy, kindness and love to my kids.  These sound like Utopian ideals - and would be easily applied if I were supplied with Utopian kid material (which, though it seems close at times, is far from the case).

It's tricky - this issue of 'what-our-kids-do'.  Because in fact, we are supposed to - commanded to - tell our kids what to do and how to behave.  This is what molding and shaping and nurturing them is kind of about: getting them to do the things that civilized society expects, to a certain degree.  How do we get the results we want without becoming a nag, nuisance, irritation, grit-under-their-skin?  When I find that answer I'll blog it, but until then, let me just stick with this one thing: putting performance above the child - his inherent worth and value.

I get that we want the best for our kids, so we want them to behave well.  We love them, so we teach them to do what is right.  The matter isn't so much that we have expectations and instructions for them - that's all well and good.  The matter (problem, parenting pitfall) is when through such instruction we communicate to our children that they as people, (with hearts, souls, feelings, ideas, value, worth, uniqueness) are only valued when they DO as we like, expect or ask of them.  When my child senses that he as a person is second to his performance, it is a BIG RED FLAG.  For me, it is a wake-up call to change course - to re-evaluate, to consider my language, interactions and expressions to my child.

So far my kids haven't been great at communicating openly how they feel about these things.  Some kids are more verbal and in-tune with their own emotions.  Since I don't have much experience with that, I think it must be ideal (grass-is-greener-syndrome) and helpful to be able to hear directly what they think and feel.  For those who are more reserved I daresay it's okay to sit them down at times and point-blank ask: "Have these recent conversations (insert a few examples here) made you feel like your worth is conditioned upon how you measure up to what we ask of you?"  I dare you: ask your child this question and see where it leads.

I struggled with this issue a lot - and still do at times in my understanding of God as my Father.  When I started to peek into theology and wonder at what God is like, I was surprised at what I discovered.  So many verses talk about God being a Rock, and about our footing being sure, and about the one who trusts in Him will not be shaken.  What, to me, is this idea of a Rock, of being secure - not shaken?  As I began to understand how God loves me, I recognized that this aspect of His being is for me a sure foundation.  His love, expressed in Christ, is an anchor for my soul.

You see, I often fail those around me when I ask them to meet expectations before I will love them.  I believe in unconditionally loving my kids, but too often they come away from me sensing something other than that.  And that is pretty much modus operandi for most of the world.  It was in Jesus' day.  Religious leaders went around putting others under the microscope of their judgement.  They had no room for things like grace, love, mercy (and I daresay, joy!)  Theirs was entirely a behavioural construct: You do the things we say the way we like and we will approve of you.  You can earn your acceptance.  And Jesus stepped onto the scene and discarded that thinking, which drew their ire and led Him all the way to the cross.

He blazed a trail contrary to the earned-acceptance model of the day.  And the world has never been the same since.  He called it the Kingdom of God.  And He told us it was within us, if we follow Him.  Instead of:

             1. What You Do    (coming before)
             2.  Who You Are

He flipped it and made it:

       1.  Who You Are (His deeply loved child, His creation, His joy) - supercedes
       2.  What You Do

He didn't waive the importance of living righteously - but He recognized that how we live flows from who we are and if we're posturing, insecure, afraid, and unaccepted our behaviour will be fraught with exhaustion and lifelessness.  Following that model may produce some outward gain, but inside there will be lifeless despair.  Can anyone relate to that?

If I somehow communicate to my child that what he does (when and how and such) matters more to me than who he is as a child of God, I have confused the truth of the Gospel and complicated his view of God.  (By confusing the Gospel, I mean that by showing them their acceptance is conditioned on their behaviour I risk them thinking that this is how God views them - and the Gospel is precisely the opposite: because you can't perform to perfection, and because God made you and loves you and redeemed you, you are completely loved, welcomed and affirmed as His worthy creation - based entirely on HIS work, and not yours).

In Christ the highest performance requirements are met.  And if I am in Christ, I am fully accepted and loved, even when how and when and what I do isn't as great as anyone thinks it should be.  Sadly, I think I have sometimes made too much of even things that aren't even remotely sin issues.  Sure, as soon as I ask my child (or tell him) what to do, if they disobey it then becomes sin (I suppose at some level).  But why do I complicate life by asking them to do so many nit-picky things the way I want?  Do I respect them as individuals with thoughts and feelings and ideas when I ask these things of them?  Do they know why I'm asking?  Why it's important to me?

Lately, because I have such stellar human material in my children (ha ha), I have taken to actually asking them politely if they can do such-and-such, but often giving them an out - an, "It's okay to say no this time."  (I haven't tried this at all on the younger ones, mind you :) - just 9 yrs and above).  And often they are willing to comply because I am aiming to respect them as persons.  Of course this won't work if your kid is belligerent, defiant and rebellious.  So, don't take this as some kind of sloppy parenting advice (use your noggin' in other words).

But I know I am just meandering my way through this and discovering new insights all the time.  Maybe you have some good ideas of how to affirm our kids - respecting them as uniquely wonderful individuals - while at the same time instructing them as to how we (and God) want them to live.

I'll look forward to your comments!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Anxiety, Mindfulness and Jesus

Lately I've begun to explore this topic called Mindfulness.  At first I scoffed - it sounded silly - because it was all about 'living in the moment' 'being fully present' 'accepting and observing your own thoughts and experiences.'  I get that.  I thought, 'Why is this so revolutionary?  Why is this making such waves in the psychology/meditation fields of interest?  It seems so obvious.'

I also thought I had it down pat.  I am SO about living in the present that I have a hard time planning anything future (think: kids' birthday parties).  I have also tried to stick with a 'leave the past in the past' mentality.  But lately I've had to reconsider things in the past, which has become troubling.  

I began to read about Mindfulness and even tried to implement these concepts in how I function.  In fact, I kind of loved that someone had come up with this whole category, labelled it, wrote about it, and explored it.  It puts words to what I've kind of thought is a good way to be all along.  I just hadn't recognized that it could be a 'thing'.  You know, a trend, a fad, a therapy. 

But then there's anxiety.  I just issued my apology regarding how I've written about and viewed anxiety in the past - merely from a spiritual perspective, and ignoring that the struggle often can stem from more than just a difficulty trusting God.  Anxiety can be physical - often it is - through no fault of our own.  Anxiety focusses on future or past and often has little to do with the present.  And mindfulness is all about the present.  So, mindfulness practices often help with re-orienting the anxiety-ridden towards the present.  In most instances, this is ideal.

But then I thought about anxiety, sorrow, depression, grief.  And immediately I thought of Jesus, known as The Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief.  "Surely He bore our sorrows.  We considered Him smitten, stricken and afflicted."  We know Jesus was perfect - He demonstrated a life lived not just as God, but as God-approved: "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased."  It is noble to want to live a life pleasing to God.  Yet the life Jesus lived, which pleased God, had many griefs and sorrows.  And anxiety.  If Jesus had anxiety, I think we can rightly say, it is okay to experience it also.

My mind went to Gethsemane: "...he began to be sorrowful and troubled...Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:37-38).  Jesus was conflicted.  He was sorrowful, overwhelmed and troubled.  Sounds a lot like anxiety.  Was He mindful?  Yes, very much so, it seems.  He asks his friends to stay with him - to stay in the moment.  To accept the pain He was enduring.  But He was also grieving His coming pain - knowing the future, knowing He was about to suffer.  His anxiety was justified.  But that made it no less difficult.

When I say that Jesus meets us in our anxiety - whether it stems from past, present or future troubles - I mean that He knows, He gets it - He understands - not in some other-worldly way, but in a very intimate, deeply compassionate way.  He is the great I AM.  He meets us in the present and welcomes the hurting soul to walk through any path - including the paths of grief, pain and suffering.

Friday, September 4, 2015

I Apologize

I want to issue a retraction and apology.  Often I have written about anxiety, worry and fear.  I even coined a phrase: 'W.A.F.fing'.  And now I regret some of what I've said.  I haven't even gone back to look.  I might cringe if I did.

Because I thought that fear and anxiety was really something to do with lacking trust - a spiritual issue, if you will.  There may be some truth in that thought, but it isn't all the truth of it.  Sometimes anxiety can hit and it isn't your fault.  It isn't because you aren't spiritual enough.  It isn't because you haven't developed your soul or done your internal homework.  Doing spiritual exercises, I'm sure, can help.  But there is a level of anxiety and fear I never understood or knew was possible until recently.

I don't need to go into it all here, now.  (Maybe someday I'll write on my own experiences).  But I just want to issue this apology to my readers, lest I have offended, hurt, discouraged or rebuked any of you needlessly - you who might suffer from bouts of fear and anxiety.  I haven't been fair.  I haven't understood.  I vow to change how I write on this subject.

Yes, we need to grow in faith and trust God.  Yes, we need to reflect that He is Sovereign, powerful and keeps us - He KEEPS us.  A powerful truth.  I believe it.  And still...there is anxiety at times.  Perfect love casts out fear - that's in the Bible.  And still, there is fear.  I get it.  I understand.  No more will I tell you how to solve your internal crises.  Instead I'll reflect with you and engage with what you experience.

I'm sorry if I've been radical and failed to fully understand the complexities of anxiety.  You have my sympathy, you who suffer through these things.

God meets us in it, for sure.

But often He meets us hurting and needy, and not needing a lecture.  Instead He meets us where we're at - discouraged, confused, disoriented by life.  And He welcomes us.  This, more than anything, helps anxiety.  More than reading the Bible more, praying more, thinking more, doing more.  HE, more than anything else, at the end of the day is there in our anxiety.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Adolescence of the Soul

I'd like to point out something that just dawned on me.  Okay, maybe it was a little late in coming - or maybe I'm just slow to 'get' things.  But I just realized that though people grow up, their age increases with each year, sometimes the adolescent stage lasts far beyond the years we allocate to this supposed maturing process.  I see it in myself, and sometimes in others, though I'd like to think I don't bother to scrutinize or oversee anyone else's growth (unless, of course, you count my children - whom it is my duty to oversee!)

It is easy to watch kids growing up and think they will arrive at somewhere between 19 and 25 with a fully matured person in place.  And an easy mistake to make - to think it is a magical process that happens with the passing of time.  Because I am noticing more and more that there is so much growing up to be done still - on the inside.  I thought that once I got certain concepts; changed in certain ways, that I would then operate from a position of maturity, wholeness, completeness and be such a source of grace and wisdom to others!  Ha!  I'll let you know when I figure out which certain concepts facilitate such grandiose schemes!  Because I keep finding more and more growing to do.

It is as if my soul has risen and peeked above the fray of life and said, "I'm still an adolescent!  You can't rest on your laurels!"

I wonder if there is such a thing as a mature soul; one who has grown past the adolescent phase.  I suppose there is.  If I can imagine it, it would look like one at peace with himself and the world, whose trust is unyielding in his Creator, God, and whose strength and endurance serve as a source of comfort and hope to those around him.  I think I have mature moments like that in my own life.  The process of growing out of soul-adolescence, must be, I imagine, one where those moments of inner calm increase and start to blend together to create a life of richly overflowing joy.  I use language of imagination, because I don't see it in myself a whole lot and haven't probably taken the time to see it in others, though I'm sure it's there.

Adolescence is by nature a tumultuous time of turbulence and growth.  I see it in my growing children - they act like mini-adults some days and like 2 year olds the next.  And I see this same adolescence in my soul - the back and forth of doubt and trust; the tendency to anxiety and fear one day and the next a supremely hopeful confidence in God.  God must tenderly smile at me and wonder at my impetuous temper-tantrums followed by earnest prayers of how I will trust Him for all I need.

Yes, God wonders.  If we know Him through Christ, we see that at times He wondered at people's lack of faith, or at their incredible faith.  This knowing God responds to soul-adolescence with tender, compassionate love.  Don't believe me?  I read it just the other day: A man comes to Jesus and tells Him about how he has done so much law-keeping and everything he's 'supposed' to do.  This is an example of soul-adolescence.  A self-assured, confident, spiritually proud, yet simply ignorant soul.  What would my response be to such smug-self-righteousness?  I'd probably throw my hands up in annoyance and tell him to get down off his high horse.

But not Jesus.  He treats the adolescent-soul with grace and truth.  It says, "He looked at him and loved him."  Such simple words.  Striking.  Not exactly profound.  But exactly what was needed.  This man did need a dose of truth, "Sell all and give to the poor and come follow me." (In that order).  But Jesus began with love.

That's what my adolescent soul needs.  A heavy dose of compassion from on high that says, "I welcome you even when you're blind.  Even when you think you're mature, but you aren't.  I will love you and meet you right where you are."  That is the starting place for me: a place to begin to grow, to lay down the angst, and to move towards deeper joy, daring hope and divine love.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Parenting Advice - Who to Listen To

Recently I've been thinking through our journey as parents - thus far.  We're still early in the game - our oldest is only 14.  And as I reflect on these 14 years, I realize we have made many mistakes, one of which I want to share with you all so you don't make them too.  The mistake is this:  Modelling our parenting after those whose kids were not yet grown and who we admired for their exterior superiorness in behaviour and respect.

You see, we looked around us and picked out people with model children - those kids who smiled sweetly, were well-mannered, polite and obedient.  Emphasis on obedient.  These others were ahead a few years than we were, so of course their model - to produce such greatly performing kids - must be the way to go.

Please don't do this.

People look at us now and might be in our same shoes 14 years ago - our kids can look so wonderful to those who don't live here with us!  (Of course, they are wonderful, don't get me wrong - but they have soul issues just like the rest of humankind).

I was just thinking about this and thought, 'Well, who should I have looked to for modeling and as a shaping influence on me as a parent?'  Answer, 'Not those who are only a few years ahead.  Maybe those who are 20 or even 30 years ahead.'

My ideas about responding to others' influence has changed.  It used to be that the grandparent generation were just unfamiliar with our goals or the changes in society that demand new methods, models or ideas.  It used to be.  That's because I didn't see that they had walked the road much farther ahead and seen the outcomes of all the parenting styles out there.

It's not true that just because someone is much older that they have acquired more wisdom - we'd like to think it is, but I have met plenty a foolish elderly person who failed to acquire the necessary wisdom for life.  However, that said, it really MAY be true, and is likely true that they HAVE acquired plenty of helpful wisdom for us in our parenting journey.

If you're looking for answers to some of your parenting queries - how to get your children to be more obedient; how to get your babies to sleep better; how to teach them God's Word; how to pass on your faith; how to school them; how to socialize them... etc. etc. - maybe step back and look at the older generation around you.  Instinctively, I went to those who had kids 5-10 years older than mine.  I don't think this was the best thing.  Certainly these parents had wisdom and there was a wealth of learning I could gain from them.  But if I had dug deeper with those 20 years ahead, if I had listened to them and given more weight to their input, I think our parenting would have been better.

I look at the effect of some of our early ideals and I don't like what I see.

For example, the desire to have obedient children is a good one.  But if not done kindly, it can result in a depressed child who has never felt his/her thoughts/feelings/ideas about things matter in the family.  This is a terrible way to raise a child.  Yes, we want our child to obey.  But do we want them to be robotic?  Do we want them to be forced into a mould that says they have no voice?  This borders on abusive - abusing their spirit and not respecting them as God's image-bearer.  Remember, our children bear God's image in their souls/spirits also!  We would all recognize that physical abuse is wrong because we are not respecting the child's dignity.

What about emotional abuse?  This is difficult to identify as parents sometimes because we think they are ours to control.  Well, yes, to some degree, my child simply must obey.  I get that.  But on another level, God holds me responsible as their parent to BE THE ADULT.  This means manipulation and ignoring their heart cries, their complaints even (yikes!), shutting them down because 'I said so' is also wrong.  These things are not helpful in parenting, though they may yield great results in the short term.

People can look at children and think they are so obedient, delightful, respectful and superior.  And they can want to imitate that kind of parenting to produce these results.  But just wait 10 or 20 years til that perfectly obedient child must grow up inside, and learn what he/she thinks about things.  Just wait and see if they are comfortable in their own skin.  Wait and see if they are emotionally stable and healthy.  Then you can copy those parents' methods.  I'm sure it can be done - there are super, great, healthy families who parent very well and have methods that produce both obedience and joy in their kids.  Those are the families to imitate.  But you don't know how that went until the kids are into their 20's.

Start listening to what the older generation around you tell you about parenting.

They just might know a thing or two.

Believe me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Kind of Neighbour I Want To Be

It is probably no surprise that I have a fascination (a combination of curiosity and respect) with the Amish.  They puzzle me and I think to myself, "Why would anyone live that way?"  And in the next thought I think, "Why doesn't everyone choose to live that way?"  Which only goes to show how bizarre my thought process can be.  One minute I lean one way, the next, I reconsider!

  But because I find them peculiar and interesting I do often read about them.  Mind you, not the fiction, though I tried that and just couldn't stomach it.  I need not go into what I think of these pseudo-novels here, but suffice to say, it did little to satiate the desire I had to know of them - who they are, why they are, how they live etc.  When I want to learn something, I tend towards non-fiction material (though fiction can be helpful in many areas of growth and learning, to teach and inform us in ways we didn't realize were possible).  A few weeks ago, I picked up a book at a thrift store called Plain and Simple by Sue Bender.  I have been reading it some off and on, in the midst of the other 14 books I'm reading!  (Yes, I counted them and there are indeed 14 others.  When I got to 15 I capped the list and told myself to finish something before adding anymore...)

  At the same time I have just finished reading Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen.  There are actually some amazing parallels between the two, coincidentally.  And combining the thoughts of these two I am formulating ideas of who I want to be, what kind of community I want to interact with, how I want my world to connect.  Specifically, what kind of neighbour am I?  In the most literal sense - a neighbour is someone who lives nearby.  In the broader sense, it means all the people in my world - who I have contact with - who know me, see me - even in the smallest measure.

  And what I get from the Amish, and from the thoughts of Nouwen in Reaching Out is what it means to be hospitable.  Hospitality is a character trait - much more than fancy dishes and napkin rings.  It is a state of the soul that welcomes another - warmly, receptively, with compassion, friendship and joy.  This is the kind of hospitality I want to engender in my life.

In Plain and Simple, Sue Bender writes, "Confused, I made a pilgrimage to the house of my neighbors, Ruth and Tino.  They weren't Amish...but...Each time I stepped into their home, I left behind a world of frenzy and entered a tranquil place.  I know that's supposed to happen when you go to church or temple, but it happens to me in my neighbors' home."

I wanted to jump up and down saying, "YES! That's the kind of neighbour I want to be!"  The kind that lets others enter as they are - without judgement - and gives them a place to just be - to hear wisdom, kindness, mercy - to receive the open hand of friendship.  I want my home - or beyond that - my presence, to be a hallowed place where people leave behind their frenzy and find a tranquil place - because that is the kind of world I want to function in.

Much of my life is certainly frenzied and NOT tranquil.  But it is tranquility that I love.  So maybe in spite of the normal frenzy that life brings I can carry a steady spirit of willing engagement with those around me.  Maybe I can offer hospitality to others even if my world seems to be falling apart.  Maybe in the struggles of life we can find communal hospitality to serve each other in our deepest need.

This is the kind of neighbour I seek to be.

Nouwen writes, "The German word of hospitality is Gastfreundschaft which means, friendship for the guest.  The Dutch use the word gastvrijheid which means, the freedom of the guest...It...shows that hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone.  Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place..."

There are certainly times when hospitality can be challenging.  But I realize that there is healing in the welcome - there is joy in community.  And community is fake when it isn't bathed in true, genuine, hospitality.

It isn't lost on me that the word 'hospitality' contains the word 'hospital'.  The hospital is where broken or sick people go to get treatment - immediate care, help, and repair!  If I am to be hospitable in my spirit, I must be ready to welcome the sick, hurting, broken and seemingly beyond-repair types.  And in fact, we have this example in the Lord Jesus Who chose common fishermen for his crew, invited prostitutes and tax-collecters to be His friends and who ate and drank with the lower class of society.  He willingly associated with the hurting and disenfranchised, and He welcomed little children and blessed them.  This is a picture of hospitality in its truest sense.  That Jesus created space for others to just be themselves.  Yes, He called them to change - but He cared and instructed and nurtured and was patient.  This is the kind of neighbour I want to be.

And ultimately hospitality is about the Gospel:

Nouwen again writes, "Only when we have come in touch with our own life experience and have learned to listen to our inner cravings for liberation and new life can we realize that Jesus did not just speak, but that he reached out to us in our most personal needs.  The Gospel doesn't just contain ideas worth remembering.  It is a message responding to our individual human condition.  The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules.  It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.  Doctrines are not alien formulations which we must adhere to but the documentation of the most profound human experiences which, transcending time and place, are handed over from generation to generation as a light in our darkness. But what is the sense of speaking about light to people who do not sense their darkness?"

And the Church, of all places, is a place of hospitality - a place to be welcomed, nurtured, and given freedom to grow and hear from God.

This is the kind of neighbour I want our Church to be.  And it is the kind of hospitality I want to offer my Church community, neighbourhood, acquaintances and everyone else I meet.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

To Be Known

One of the many reasons I blog is because I am compelled to share my life with others.  I know it is impersonal - and that face-to-face relationships are best, but at times I have a need to simply write. Although I am trained to be extroverted I am naturally more inclined to being a social hermit - my companions would be authors, dead or alive (but mostly dead).  Though this is a romantic notion (having intimate relationships with dead writers - of course, only in my imagination - because it seems they know me and I know them), it isn't enough.  I so badly wish it were enough.  I want to remain reclusive - kept safe from relationships that could actually involve risk and pain.  Though this is my instinctive desire, I don't believe it is healthy.  By keeping relationships away, and only interactive via writing or by reading dead people's stuff, others are missing out on ME (and, Oh, What. A. Loss. ! - tongue firmly in cheek).  But more importantly, community ceases to exist when I sing to myself, "I am a rock, I am an island!  And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries."

So, in a limited sense I share myself, or some of myself in the blogosphere - which is, frankly, a poor substitute - or no substitute at all, for real, fully present, in the moment, 'here's who I really am' conversations and struggles.  It is so safe to just dump my thoughts here and run for cover!  It is an awkward way to communicate - one sided, filtered, biased and yet freeing all at the same time.  Thank you for letting me share my 'stuff' with you!  Whoever you may be...

Where does this come from, this need to write?  This need to express?  To share my life?  It stems from a need to be known.  And this is a need we all have, I believe.  This is why God says to Hagar, when she is despairing of her life and her son's life out in the desert, "I see you."  And she calls Him, "The God Who sees."  This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible - because it tells me God sees me - He knows me - and in the knowing there is care, love, grace, hope and mercy poured out on my life.

Until recently, I wanted to camp out there - in the idea that God sees me.  And I have, and do, and I love it.  But He doesn't stop there - He has placed me in the communal family of His body.  He wants others to see me - to be His body to me.  He wants me to know others - to grow in intimacy, even if it includes pain.  Even if I discover a callousedness in others that is disheartening.  Even when I am lonely and think no one cares to know me.

I still think it is too much work to know me - that someone the enormity of my self is a burden too great to place on another in the guise of friendship.  I am distrusting, cautious, withdrawn and fearful at times.  I only share this because I want us to think (collectively) about this issue - there must be others like me (I wonder?) who assume they are too much for the community of faith to handle!  I don't want others to think I don't want to know them because they are too complex or burdened!  Do I communicate this to others somehow?  Perhaps.  I hope not.

Back when I was 17 and emotionally raw (okay, that didn't just end when I was 17) I wrote a depressing story in my journal.  I'll share it here as it speaks volumes.  I warn you that it is depressing to prepare you before you read it - I warned you.  But why I share this is because I wonder if others feel the same way?  Am I missing reaching out to people who wander through my community because I haven't taken the time to honestly affirm that they are valid and needed and wanted?  We love adoption stories because they communicate all these things to us - validity, being wanted, chosen, cared for, desired.  I don't want to only think of those things in terms of adoption - I want to adopt those around me as friends, who will be known by me and who will want to also know me - even with all my junk.

The Story of the Real Person

She is such a paradox. Her heart is warm and open, though in pain. Her spirit is healthy and strong, though alone. Her emotions are strong, though lacking. Yet her walls are stone cold, her barriers are miles thick and the real person hides, huddled in a corner, shivering, trying to keep warm on its own. But no matter how strong the heart may be or how warm the lifeblood that flows through her veins, she cannot sustain herself. She needs something, perhaps someone to reach out and touch her, to bring her close in a warm embrace and to say, "Yes, I do want to know you." And once this has happened, the stone cold walls are torn apart, the mile thick barriers are snapped like thread and the real person inside is seen: strengths and weaknesses. It is the weaknesses that will cause the rejection that will eventually follow. And once the rejection has occurred, the stones are replaced, piece by piece, but only this time the cement is twice as thick and the barriers are ten times as restricting and the real person is locked inside and begins to huddle up, pulling in her knees up to her chin. And slowly, ever so slowly, the warmth of the lifeblood begins to fade and the teeth begin to chatter and the spirit grows weaker and weaker.
The pattern repeats itself until one day when someone does say, "Yes, I do want to know you," the real person cannot hear. The barriers have become sound barriers of protection and though people pound on the walls, the real person stays inside, quietly huddled, declaring to herself that she does not need others, for they only bring pain. And eventually the heart grows weak and cold from the strain and it dies.
Then one day, someone comes across the corpse that lays cold and shriveled up in in the corner and asks, "Who was she?" And no one can answer, for all they can say is, "We never knew her."
And I ask myself: will anyone ever know me?

Explaining the Story: When someone says, "Yes, I want to know you," this instills hope, but through experience hope becomes weaker and weaker. Without hope the spirit dies (thus, the physical parallel in the story).

A sad ending to a true story based on real-life characters.

I am no longer that depressive 17 year old.  But I do sometimes go back to this and find myself in the same place.  Recently I have written about introspection and narcissism.  I have thought about how I viewed talking of onesself as self-centred.  And I am rejecting these notions.  Because to be known I have to talk about myself.  This is a healthy thing, not narcissism.  

I have no thoughts on how to conclude here - it is what it is, I suppose.  Here is a longing I have, and I daresay, you might have also.  I trust these thoughts will bring us to a truer sense of community and growth - where we are known and ultimately share in the knowing we have with God and spread His joy in being known by Him and in the priviledge of being able to know Him even to the smallest degree.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

To Be a Church Pianist

Dear Priscilla,

You are only the tender age of 12 right now, and your piano lessons are progressing very nicely. You are a far more dilligent, faithful student than I ever was at your age.  I appreciate your hard work and the joy you display in playing.  I want to share with you my thoughts on how I view playing the piano - especially in a Church setting.  Maybe someday you will find yourself before a congregation, or in an empty room with a lone piano beckoning to you.  Either way, you will have an audience.  And you will have the opportunity to worship.

Like the woman with the alabaster jar, you take the precious accumulation of your skill and preparation and break it open before the God you worship and adore.  You allow the music to pour out as an offering of love, and as a gift to each listener.  The gift is meant for the Object of worship, but the fragrance spreads abroad in each heart that lends its own adoration to the moment.  The woman in Scripture who broke her jar of perfume over Jesus' feet had only to break it open and expend her costly commodity on her Saviour - the One she adored, and Whose love she could never begin to fathom.

At the piano, we open our hearts before God and allow the song to work its way over our thoughts, to sink deep into the soul and to reverberate in the music we produce.  This is why your respect of the instrument is so important.  Your expressing of joy and sorrow, hope, peace or awe will come through in the way you play.  It will not do to plunk out the notes as if experimenting with pieces of glass and the shattering tinkle they will make as they hit the floor.  Each note matters, and how you play it matters.  The piano can be a harsh sounding instrument - don't let it be under your expression of its potential.  Developing your skill is crucial to being able to worship with all that is within you. 

 And yet even the simplest melody - strains of a child's song - played simply, beautifully, without embellishment, can be poured before the throneroom of heaven as worship before the Almighty King.  He is not impressed by our show of skill.  He delights in the praises of His own - and so your calling, if you are to be a pianist, is to worship Him.  With every ounce of your spirit, with every molecule of your being, with every thought you think each day - these should be filled with nuance of love, adoration and praise to Him.  He made us for this - to worship, to be thrilled by the thought of Him.

"All that thrills my soul is Jesus!  He is more than life to me!
And the fairest of ten thousand - in my blessed Lord, I see!"

Does He thrill you?  Then worship Him.

If the music can convey a smidgen of your joy in His presence, if it can comfort you when sad, if it can wash over your heart with reminders of His truth - then use it for His glory.

There is very little I have I can offer - I just share these musings as a reflection of what it means to worship at the piano.

When I play the piano I like to pretend no-one else is there.  In fact, I play the best alone.  It is a chance to express what can't be expressed in words, in art, in any other way.  Scripture tells us that God delights in the praises of His people.  Let your praise be delightful to Him - offer your best and break open the jar that contains the fullness of your love for Him.  

You will be able to express to Him only as much as is in you to express.  That sounds obvious - but what I mean is - if you have not dwelt long on aspects of His character, if you have not considered what it means that He loves you, that He died for you, that He is holy, that He is everywhere, that He knows you and cares for you - if you have not taken up thoughts of Him, how will your worship be poured before Him?  Can it?  Let your mind go to Him often - no thought of Him is ever wasted.

Well, dear Priscilla - I have no idea if you will grow to be a Church pianist someday.  But chances are you will continue to love to play this instrument - that you will delight in what your fingers can do on a set of keys.  I hope you will learn to pour yourself - your soul - your delight into worshiping through this medium, to the praise of His glory - that you, as His creation will reverberate back to Him His own beauty, glory and majesty.

If you do that, you'll be a great Church pianist someday.  He's the only Audience that counts.


Monday, March 16, 2015

12 Tips for Moms with A.D.D. (Part 3)

Continued from Part 2:

9.  Harness Structuring Tools

I struggle to even use tools like planners, lists, recipe schedules and the like.  But I still try and go back to them and start all over.  Especially when I lose the list I once had.  I often forget that I even have a list.  This is what it is like to have A.D.D.  Lists and planners sound like great tools, but they don't work if you don't use them - or if you forget to.  I have only had a cell phone for just over a year now and am beginning to see what a great tool it is!  Now I can put in reminders and calendar events and it will ding me when I need to know!  I'm sure this is news to no-one.  But it is exciting to me!  Maybe in time I will learn other tools that can help - but I put this in my list because someday I'll come back to this and I'll need the reminder. ('Cuz I'll forget there were tools - just call me Dorie).

Some other tools are: Make a School Lunch plan - stick it on the fridge.  Keep a post-it pad in the car with a pen.  When you remember something while you're out and about you can jot it there and stick it on the dashboard.  Have a list on your fridge of three main food categories: Protein, Veggie, Starch.  Underneath each have a list of the things your family likes.  This provides many quick meal ideas for me.

10.  Tell People Around You: "I Forget Things A Lot."

The friends you want in your life will be forgiving and patient.  But it is probably helpful for those you are around frequently to know what you're like.  That way when you're late or forget something they know you are just like this and won't take it personally.  And if they do, well, that's another situation.  I tell people all the time, "I have A.D.D."  Probably half of those have no idea what I mean by this and some of the rest don't believe it exists.  That's okay.  They've been forewarned.

I also tell them that I'm always learning and growing and seeking to become the person God wants me to be.  I don't ever want A.D.D. to be an excuse.  But I know my brain does seem to short-out sometimes.  And we wouldn't condemn a dementia patient for forgetting things - we wouldn't judge them for their lack of responsibility.  But because A.D.D. is some other kind of thing others may think it is okay to judge it.  That's their choice I suppose.  But I would avoid such people.

11.  Continue to Re-Start

It goes without saying that a chaotic interior life can often lead to a chaotic exterior life.  I don't count the number of times I've embarked on some self-clean-up mission.  It's just a part of my life - this starting of things and forming goals only to have them vanish somehow and then I wonder if I had any goals?  When a new year begins I often think, "Oh yeah!  I should think up some great accomplishments I want to do or some way I want to work on myself."  And I take so long trying to think of these things that by the time I'm done thinking up something, it's March and I forgot where I was at the beginning.  So then I think, maybe next year I'll apply these things!!  Yeah, whatever.

I love hearing about famous people who failed and kept trying - like Einstein, Lincoln and Edison.  So what that what they set out to do didn't work the first time.  They didn't give up.  So I won't either.  So what that I'm forgetful!  I'll keep learning new things to help myself!  Do I need guilt to weigh me down?  No, I just need to pick up and re-start.  This is a way of life for me.

"Never give up."  I tell myself this over and over.  My family needs me and loves me, in spite of my quirks.  So I will continue to plod along.

12.  Receive ALL the Help Offered to You

I have been the recipient of immense support and help.  I have borne five children and run them to school and back, packed lunches, helped them grow and develop.  But I have not done this alone.  Yes, Sam has been a super-supportive husband and Dad.  But beyond that, I have been blessed with others who have served, assisted, helped and supported me.

One Mom drove my kids to school every morning for three years!  That's a LOT!  I was so humbled by such kindness - I know I didn't 'deserve' it.  But she was available and willing.

Every time I had a baby my Mom came from out of town (I'm talking, from Hong Kong out of town - that's way farther than anyone I know!)  She didn't just come for a week - usually a month or more.  She did school runs, lunches, took the kids on outings, bought them stuff, made most of our meals, babysat, did laundry and much more.  I needed that help.  May God bless you with such a serving Mother.

Sam's sister has homeschooled two of our kids.  She has come when I've been sick.  She takes the kids on extra outings and fieldtrips.  May your kids be blessed with such an Aunt.

You get the picture - be willing to receive help.  Don't feel you have to prove yourself capable of being a super-woman.  If someone is out there offering help - take it.  It is such a relief to me when someone offers to help me.

I'll take all the help I can get :)

12 Tips for Moms with A.D.D. (Part 2)

5.  Become Pragmatic

Do you know what Pragmatism is?  It means doing the practical thing over the ideal thing or the creative thing or the ______(insert descriptor here)________ thing.  I love aesthetics (when things look beautiful) - but I don't have the time, energy or resources to fix everything around me up nice and pretty.  I see people's beautiful kitchens.  And I sometimes want my kitchen to be like that.  But I cook in my kitchen.  I love all my super gadgets.  People with pristine kitchens often don't cook much or have no addiction to gadgets like I do.  So I have decided to just be myself about my kitchen.  It may not be fancy-schmancy.  It is mine.  I have stuff out everywhere - accessible.  I have decided my dream kitchen is no longer the stuff I see in magazines.  My dream kitchen is an industrial kitchen with easy-to-clean open shelving and carts - and it look cluttery and very practical.  Magazine-like kitchens often are not very practical.  Sure, they look nice.  Counters are clear.  But when you want to whip out a fruit smoothie for the kids on a hot afternoon you have to dig under counters to pull out that blender that is providing that visual appeal.  I'll take the clutter with the practicality.

I just applied that to the kitchen - but the principle is the same in other areas of life.  Sometimes being practical means only buying/owning clothes that don't require special laundering (no dry-cleaning), or ironing.  Being pragmatic may mean we don't have all 5 kids in extra curricular activities at once.  It may mean enrolling them all in the same activity to cut down on running-around all day.  You get the idea.

Pragmatism.  It works wonders.

6.  Realize Your Gifts: Maximize Them

Part of this is knowing yourself.  I know my strengths and my weaknesses.  I'll work on my weaknesses the rest of my life.  But my strengths - these I can harness and use fully to the benefit of my family and surrounding community.

I don't mind cooking for a crowd, so we have people over a lot.  Is it chaos?  Sometimes, yes.  But I roll with it - because I'm parting with perfectionism!  I can empathize, so I talk and visit with people!  I can play the piano, so I do, wherever I can, whenever I can!  Having A.D.D. can be annoying and downright frustrating.  Sometimes we need to just learn to be our nutty, weird, fun, odd, bizarre mix of traits - simply put, ourselves, and just get on with life.  Which leads me to no. 7:

7.  Quit Comparing Yourself to Others

It is natural to compare what we do, how we look, what our homes look like, how our kids are doing, our hobbies (or lack thereof), travels, you name it!  But natural (or instinctive) doesn't make it good and right.  It is a waste of energy.  Like I said earlier, I have limited resources.  I choose to not waste those mental resources on comparing myself with others.  Others might seem to have perfect lives.  But they don't - I guarantee it.  It only looks that way.

Focussing on your own stuff means less time thinking about how others live.  For me - I see other Mom's who seem to do it all.  They can have a job, a pristine home, well-mannered children, clean laundry and nutritious meals.  All. The. Time.  They have: Perfection!!!  Oh well, back to MY real life.  I don't live their lives.  I don't know their struggles.  So what if they look perfect.  I don't have time to dwell on such things.  Neither do you, probably.  (Just tell yourself, "My brain does way more than their brains.  Mine is super charged all the time!")  Great consolation, that line.

8.  Allow Yourself the FREEDOM to BE YOURSELF

This is just like the last one, but aside from comparing.  Just enjoy being who you are - creativity, imagination, daydreaming - whatever makes you you.  I just love being me.  Not always - mostly.  There are times I annoy myself.  Like when I talk too much (which is most always), or slide into anxiety mode.  But other than these pitfalls I realize I lose the joy of being who God made me to be when I wallow in guilt and self-abasement.  Get out of the doldrums and thank God for making you the way He did.  There is a song I sang as a child and the words always puzzled me.  They just didn't sound right.  It was a cute song - but the message has taken decades to sift from the cuteness into my experience:
 "If I were a butterfly, I'd thank the Lord for giving me wings,
and if I were a wiggly worm, I'd thank You Lord that I could squirm,
 and if I were a fishy in the sea, I wiggle my tail and I'd giggle with glee,
but I just thank You Father for making me ME.

   'Cuz You gave me a heart and You gave me a smile,
   You gave me Jesus and You made me Your child,
   And I just thank You, Father, for making me Me."

Sometimes it's hard to thank God for making me me.  But I am part of His creation so it is insulting to Him to constantly wish His creation were something else.

Click Here for Part 3: Part 3

12 Tips for Moms With A.D.D. (Part 1)

I'm not going to address the fact that there are those who deny the existence of a psychological condition called 'Attention Deficit' (I left off 'Disorder' on purpose).  If you need evidence just videotape my life for a while and then make your decision!

Regardless of where you stand, I have become quite familiar with this territory and figure it might be helpful for others to glean from my experience.  Here are 12 tips for Moms with A.D.D.  If you need help understanding your child with A.D.D. I'd be happy to answer your questions from my own experience and memory of being a child with A.D.D.  Yes, putting two-and-two together - that means you don't grow out of it or recover - it is a lifelong personality style.  Everyone has some hiccups in their personality - things that don't fit with the majority culture - nuances that might make life difficult for us or others.  A.D.D. just happens to be one of those types of things.  Learning our struggles and addressing them can be helpful to cope with various challenges.  I'm always learning, failing, and re-learning and re-failing - and I'm okay with that.  Hope you are too.

1.  Teach Your Kids to be REALLY Responsible

I am so thankful that my kids are familiar and comfortable with me enough to remind me: "Hey Mom, it's cold today, don't I need a coat?!"  (No, I'm not embarrassed to admit this to the general public.  I am just so completely devoid of a detailed mind that these things fall by the wayside).  Another way to help yourself is to be open with your older kids (like, age 7 on up) about your struggles and invite their input, such as:  "We are getting out the door so late so often.  I have such a hard time getting your lunches and backpacks and papers signed etc.  I know you're not to blame for us being late.  Can you help me think of ways to be on time more?"  We were late so much to school and I asked my kids to help me.  And they did.

If your kid has A.D.D. too, then your challenges are greater.  But not impossible to address!

2.  Become a Commune-ist not an Individual-ist

I had to learn this the hard way.  I thought, "This kid fits best with this schooling option, this one with that one..." etc.  I wanted what would suit each kid the best.  Then I had four kids going to four different schools.  What a logistical nightmare and headache for me!  Don't do it!!!  Especially if you have A.D.D!!  What a way to stress yourself out!  I ended up losing my temper more - with everyone in sight (apologies to all those who had to deal with this).  I woke up one day and pondered my understanding of Communism.  Now, as a political structure - not so great.  But as a family ideal - now this was something to consider!!!  No more: "We will choose what's best for each particular child."  Oh Noooooooooooooo.  Now it was, "What's best for the family will have to be best for you.  You'll have to figure out how to deal with it."  I decided we would shift our family-style to commune based rather than individual based.  It has changed our family and we love it.  So glad to be done with the 4 kids in 4 schools episode of my life (just takes me a while to learn these things - I have a steep learning curve).  If you figured that out early - good for you.  I'm a slow learner.

3.  Toss Out Perfectionism

I don't really see myself as a perfectionist - maybe that's because so little of my life is perfect.  But it is troubling when I set out to clean a room and spend all day on one corner.  That corner becomes my perfection.  It is shiny, clean, tidy, organized and perfect.  Unlike me.  It gives me joy to waste an entire day on a corner of a room.  It just doesn't help anyone else.  It wastes time.  The laundry may be pushed back a day, supper is nowhere to be found.  But my shiny corner awaits!  I need to not do this to my family.  I need to call it what it is: a warped need for perfection somewhere in my life.  At these times I need to acknowledge my desire, re-group and toss perfectionism out the window.

It may not be as easily done as it is said, but these are just reminders - there are many ways to address perfectionism.  This is just a tip to make you think about possibly considering how perfectionism may be stealing your joy and that of your family.

4.  Learn Your Limits

I have extremely limited energy resources.  And Mental resources.  And time resources.  In general, I am a low energy person.  I cannot take on everything there is to do.  I see how much stuff goes on in every community I'm in and it exhausts me just to think about it!  I know my purpose in this season of life is really to give myself to my home and family.  There are wonderful blessings to serving others too - at Church, school, in the community and beyond.  But I try to assess my involvement in these things in the context of my primary purpose in my home.  Call me traditional or whatever, I just realize that I can't do everything, I'm not a superwoman and I admire those who do/can.

Once I learned that I did have limits I felt freer, more at peace, more in control of my life.  I had less panic and anxiety and gave less thought to what others think of me.  (There was very little of that to begin with!)  I recommend learning your limits - see where such growth will take you!

Click Here for Part 2:  Tips 5-8

Thursday, March 12, 2015

When Healing Includes Pain

Maybe this is Part 2 of my previous post.  Because you know my mind keeps whirring after I've said my bit.

So on Sunday evening I was sitting in an Easy Chair that rocks.  And Hannah has this need to climb all over me and mash her face up against mine while she strokes my face.  Which I try to allow, since someday, I'm convinced, she'll quit it.  She climbed up on my lap and as I leaned back I realized we were going to go over - which is usually no big deal - it has happened once or twice.  The problem was that my arm reached out to break the fall and said arm got twisted backwards and pinned under the chair back with her still on top of me.  And I couldn't move.  So I screamed - for help, yes - but mostly out of the sheer pain and agony I desperately wanted to stop.  At that moment, nothing meant anything to me but the hope that someone would pull me out of my predicament.

Enter the dashingly handsome knight in shining armour - Sam.  He was actually sitting across the room and stood above me not knowing where to pull or help or how to move.  I didn't know either!  I kept trying to nudge myself out of the twisted arm position but I was pinning myself down and any movement meant further strain on what I was sure was a mutilated arm.  I quickly realized I would need to be pulled immediately upright so as to un-pin my arm.  And Sam did this for me!  Hooray Sam!!

I was gasping for breath and absolutely freaking out with pain.  I just sat there moaning and couldn't believe that one minute of my life could hold such pain - and with only one limb forced beyond it's limit.  The amazing thing is that nothing seemed to be broken - not even a torn tendon or ligament (I think, it's just a guess).  But within a few seconds the pain subsided and my arm went completely numb.  It had been twisted and pinned down opposite of where it is meant to go.  And the pain came to a halt pretty quickly, only to be replaced by total numbness.  I was pleasantly surprised - and quite pleased with the outcome.

The only problem with numbness (while I admit it is a great blessing), is that it messes with you in ways you forget - like the times you realize you actually need a left arm to, say, bring your cup to your mouth, or to pull down a seatbelt from behind or to reach up to wash your hair in the shower.  The numbness was a welcomed relief.  But it incapacitated my arm to some degree.  Though I have no great medical knowledge I had to surmise it was some kind of mild nerve damage, and I just figured it should resolve itself in time.  (And here I am typing this, so obviously it was a very minor, short-lived thing).

For the last three days I haven't done any laundry.  Try doing that with a household our size and it can be depressing to look at the pileup.  I couldn't cut things in the kitchen so it was pretty simple meals too.  I found my arm to be like dead-weight and somewhat useless at times - and frustrating.  Once in a while it would give me a shock of pain, only to return to numbness.  Until this evening.

Suddenly I felt a horrible ache over my arm and it throbbed and seemed way worse than before.  I got a bit nauseous and lounged on the couch for a while.  The pain seemed to spread, and I reached out my arm and it moved almost with complete range of motion.  I realized in that instant that my arm was figuring out it's proper nerve connections or something and decided to get back to being useful in my employ.

And like puzzles magically falling into place, it presented a picture to me of what healing of the soul might be like.  Injury occurs.  Pain is inevitable.  But sometimes pain exceeds what the soul can bear and paralysis sets in.  Complete numbing of emotion and deadness of heart seems to overtake what was once a healthy, engaged, vibrant human being.  This may seem like some kind of disorder, clinically, but I wonder if it isn't also a blessing - a mechanism designed by our Maker to calm the raging sea when we have no control over the things that grieve us so deeply.

But the numbness may or may not last forever.  And it is a bit of a band-aid over the pain that resulted from some kind of injury.  And when the healing begins, sometimes the pain emerges again.  It can be frightening - when the pain washed over my arm I wanted out.  I'd rather go back to numb, I thought.  But that would mean having a limp arm that wouldn't serve it's purpose.

My guess is that in healing we re-visit pain and it is part of the pathway to wholeness.  Because if I am numb, I disconnect from the stimulus of whatever is around me.  I fail to own the pain that is a part of my story.  I think it is okay to stay there for a while.  But certainly the hope of healing, even if it brings with it a painful process, is worth exploring.

And explore I shall.  With my left arm to boot.

Christmas in March

We have Christmas at Christmas time.  We have Christmas in July.  But today I'd like to celebrate Christmas...once again.  I should save my thoughts for another time, I suppose.  But these are the overflow of my heart today...

I have been mulling over the thought of 'inner healing'.  Yes, I put that in quotes so you can catch my meaning - is it real?  What is it exactly?  How do you know when you've experienced inner healing?  I mean, really.  What do people mean when they go through life and experience some heartache or tragedy or trauma and then come out of it through some "journey" and arrive on the golden shores waltzing under the welcome banner of "You have now entered INNER HEALING.  Enjoy your stay."

I don't mean to mock it.  Okay, maybe I do.  Maybe because it is hard to grasp - and I wonder what it looks like for each of us - and that begs the question, do we all need some experience of inner healing?  Maybe, maybe not - I guess.

To be sure, I have experienced my own seasons of grief.  I have seen a need for inner healing, and I have sought it and prayed for it and come out wondering what it's all really about.  But the concept of healing isn't just related to my experience.  It is a theme throughout human history - the longing of the soul for wholeness, for integration, for a sense of the self that needs not to hide from the piercing gaze of truthful, honest, open, transparent relationships.

Perhaps this is why my favourite Christmas song of all time is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.  Well, the first reason is probably because it is by Charles Wesley, my favourite hymnwriter.  I'm sure all of you reading this have a favourite hymnwriter, don't you?  Okay, it's just one of my very odd, distinctive hobbies - hymnology - knowing who wrote what, why and when and what page number and key signature it's in (in my Hymnal, of course).

What does this song, which we rightly associate with Advent, have to do with healing - much less inner healing?

I can barely sing through it without it stirring my heart - when I get to the line: "Ris'n with healing in His wings..." a sob is choked by my effort to sing.  Maybe that's why singing is healing in and of itself - because we are so stirred by music we might explode if we didn't have to get to the end of the song to resolve the harmonies.  Maybe music doesn't do that for you - but it does for me.  Perhaps that is why I hide behind a piano at times - because I don't need to be singing to hear and meditate and worship and can let it wash over me working its magic in my soul.

Recently a friend mentioned that the issue of healing is inherent in the Gospel message - that the good news of salvation is intricately linked to the healing of our souls.  The line in Isaiah has always puzzled me: "By His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) (and 1 Peter 2:24).  Right in the middle of describing how Jesus has come to save our lost souls we have this line about healing.  Good theology students like to tell us it is the sin-sickness of our souls that needs healing and that salvation is the cure.  I get that.

But the wounded soul may still need to drink deep of the well of healing that comes from the glorious message of the cross.

And I may be that wounded soul, in need of that continuous flow of hope and rescue - in need of healing and salvation.

So, I bring my woundedness to God and sing in worship: "Hail!  The Heav'n Born Prince of Peace!  Hail the Sun of Righteousness!  Light and Life to all He brings (and that means me!!), 
                      Risen With Healing In His Wings.

Mild, He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth..."

We are now in a season of Lent - where in the Christian tradition some take these six weeks to mortify the flesh in some way so as to increase our hunger for Christ and enter into His self-abasement for a short season.  Whether you celebrate lent or not, the habit of reflection on His passion, the cross, our salvation and ultimately His resurrection is a worthy one.

This hymn celebrates the incarnation - the birth of Christ.  But it doesn't stop short of reminding us of why He was born - born to die.  And that with His birth, and then His death, and ultimately with His resurrection, we are born not only to new, everlasting life, but to the experience of healing.

He experienced the ultimate wounds, and He resurrected with ultimate healing.  There is hope for the wounded soul - By His wounds we are healed -

...and He calls us to return to Him - the Shepherd and overseer of our souls.

The conquering King, acquainted with grief, a man of sorrows, has passed through the deepest suffering that brings with it our hope of healing.

I need His light and life.  I need the healing only He can bring.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Is Introspection Narcissism?

Recently I've been mulling over a few things - things about myself and my life and unprocessed junk I thought I'd processed.  Guess I'll have to continue processing.  When do we say "I'm done!" with sorting out our experiences and journey in life?  I thought I'd come to the end of that.  So then I mull over things and memories and messages from my earlier years ring in my ears and I wonder, "Were these things true?  Did I buy into these messages and incorporate them into myself and live with the results of half-truths?"  Maybe, I don't know.  You tell me.

You see, I have felt that in writing - especially writing for the random public - though I don't really write for you, but just to unload it into cyberspace - I burden readers with too much about me.  Somehow I picked up on messages of:  Writing or talking in the first person means you're self-focussed.  It means you're self-absorbed.  This was a great message to get me to shut up.  And I did - I took it to heart and quit going into what I was thinking and feeling all the time.

Another message I got one time was when I was a young teenager and seriously depressed.  A very dark cloud hung over me for about two years.  It was miserable - deep depression that wouldn't go away.  I also had a woe-is-me approach to almost everything during that time - not uncommon for people whose outlook has become dragged down by depression.  And a friend got tired of my drama and misery and was just a little fed up.  (I don't blame her - she had every reason to be, and being a peer was no expert in how to deal with a depressed teenage friend).  She finally one day just blurted out to me, "Look Sarah!  No one really cares!  Don't you see that?"

This was harsh, to be sure.  It took me a lot of thinking time to take in those words.  As a 38 year old now I recognize they were not the worst or most damaging words ever.  They just were.  I'm sure she'd take it back now.  But those words affected me.  I took them to be true.  The message was: You are wallowing in it and no one has time or patience or care for this kind of thing.  Get over it.

Sometimes people do need to be shook up.  Maybe harsh honesty is helpful, to someone, somewhere, sometime... I don't have that in my experience - as in, it hasn't been that helpful to me.  But I have been on the other side too - where I am harsh and direct and tired of another's drama.  I say this to my own shame - because I don't think it's the best way to be.

These twin messages: "No one cares about your drama" and "speaking in 1st person all the time is narcissism" have coloured my writing and relationships.  I have feared to open myself up to others - if I talk about myself that must mean I'm self-centred, right?  But how do you develop relationships without sharing yourself with others?  You can't.

Someone recently encouraged me to reject these messages.  I had held onto them as true.  What hogwash!  So what if some people don't care?  There are so many who do care.  So many potential friendships out there - people who love and give and welcome a hurting friend.  That's the kind of friend I want to be to others.  Will I allow others to be that kind of welcoming, warm, nurturing friend to me?  It sounds possible!

The second issue I've had is with being introspective.  Navel-gazing is what I call it.  There is no end to self-analysis and soul-searching.  I have shied away from doing the hard work of cultivating my soul - for fear of becoming a self-absorbed hermit.  Well, I guess I'm not really afraid of that - I'd quite like it actually.  (I could be a Rock, an Island...and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries...)

Apparently introspection can be helpful.  But how much is too much?  How much until we get wrapped into a pretzel psychologically speaking and can only see things through lenses of labels and identity categories?  I don't know - I'll toss it out there.  Maybe you have opinions about this.  I don't have an answer for it...yet.