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Category Archives: Personal Growth

Window Pains

I started an art project a couple of years ago. Towards the end of last year, I was getting to the point of pulling it all together. I needed a cool frame and decided an antique window was just the thing. After a bit of searching, I found what I was looking for. I bought it and brought it home. It was dirty and I wasn’t quite ready to use it just yet, so I left it on the front porch, leaning against the house. I intended to get working on it within a couple of days.

And then a big storm came and the wind blew the window over and one of the panes shattered. I cleaned up the broken glass and my husband moved the window out to the barn where it would be safe from future storms while I figured out what to do next.

That same week, a storm of a different kind blew through. Our oldest son came to “teach us a lesson” by breaking apart our front porch bench and using it to smash our main floor windows. After 9 years of the figurative darkness that he brought to our lives, he also brought literal darkness. Our windows were boarded up for 10 long winter weeks.

Well, we got through all that, only to have a family health crisis blow through like another storm. (I’ll save that story for another post.)And it seems we’ve gotten through that, too.

Then suddenly it was July and my broken window was still sitting in the barn.IMG_9255

I had half-attempted to find out if I could get the one pane replaced, but I kind of figured that was a lost cause. And I had proceeded far enough with that exact size of window in mind, that my efforts to just replace the whole window were also fruitless. I needed a new plan. I needed to remove the other panes.

It has taken me a couple of weeks. Sitting on the driveway, hunched over my project. Scraping and chipping away at the ancient caulking that was holding the panes in place. I could have just shattered the glass and been done with it…but you’re never really done with shattered glass. I know. Shards lurk for months. For…ever.

Curled over those three remaining panes, carefully trying to restore the project as a whole, I was struck by the metaphoricalness of it all.

I have 4 children. One of them is broken (seemingly beyond repair) and gone. The other 3 remain, but our family is not the same. Trying to rebuild the project without further damage is painstaking work. We can never fill that empty quadrant. There’s no way to fix it. We had to revise the plan. Do our best to make something beautiful out of the wreckage.

The finished project tells a more meaningful story than anything I had envisioned IMG_9294when I started it. His love endures forever. Through even the bleakest of seasons. When everything else is falling apart or already broken beyond repair. When plans need to be reconfigured, re-envisioned, or completely restarted. His love endures forever.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2017 in Family, God, Adoption, Personal Growth

 

When Storms Like The Sea Billows Roll

I have a lot of roles. So do you, I’m sure. Let’s list a few. For me, there’s wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt. There are a bunch of work titles. There are friendship roles that I fill. There are different things I do in my church community. And the list goes on.

Then there are the roles within roles. Let’s look at “mom”. Under that heading, I am menu-planner, grocery-shopper, cook, dishwasher, laundress, chauffeur, teacher, disciplinarian, drill sergeant, time-keeper, seamstress, personal shopper, hair stylist, cleaning lady…

I could break it down even further. I make fantastic bread. I can do amazing braids. I am the best at digging out slivers. And ain’t nobody organize a carpool like this mama!15713335_10154671530175351_137902662_n

But all of those roles aren’t applicable all the time. Nobody cares that I can make fantastic bread, unless of course, one of my cherubs offers to bring homemade bread to a school function – which is, to date, I think…never.

But should the need arise, I am the mom for the job!

Allow me to draw a comparison now to all the names and roles of God. Have you ever read a list of His names and attributes and kind of glossed over? Sure, some of them are relatable all the time, but others just seem like nice, random ideas.

Until a need arises.

This Christmas was all about “Emmanuel” for me. As I briefly outlined in my previous post, we’ve been dealing with an attack on our home. Now that the court process is finished and there’s no more “alleged” attached to the perpetrator, I am free to say that it was our son. (You may have figured that out, since I categorized the post under “adoption”. Was that cheeky of me?)

With all the questions about security and what attacks might still be coming, “Emmanuel, God With Us” has been more meaningful to me than ever before. I have always known that He is with me, and I have always had an appreciation for what that name meant to the Jews of the day. But over the past few weeks, the meditation of my heart has been “God with us.” GOD with us. God WITH us. God with US.

Another God-role that has brought me much peace during this time is the concept of Jesus as mediator and God as judge. Let me fill you in on more of the story.

There were numerous charges against our son, accumulated over the course of several weeks. Because our justice system isn’t perfect, we ran into a bit of a snafu with Victim Services. (Yes, I know what snafu means, Mom, but that’s exactly what I mean to say.) The two most serious charges against our son were dropped. That means, as far as all the records are concerned, Mischief Over $5000 and Unlawful Entry never happened – even though we’re still living in a cold, dark, drafty, boarded-up house.

I confess, I had a full day of feeling very bitter and angry towards our Victim Services representative and the prosecutor. They were supposed to speak for us, represent us, advocate for us. And they hung us out to dry. My heart screamed, “Isn’t there anyone who is FOR US?”

And the answer came immediately. “I AM.”

The picture of Jesus Christ as advocate was brilliantly clear in my mind. Again, there has always been a knowledge of Him advocating on my behalf, presenting me as pure and faultless because of His sacrifice, to God the Father and ultimate judge. That picture pertains to my own sin being washed away. But this new picture, with the issue being someone else’s sin against me, showed me so clearly that He is still advocating on my behalf. And I can fully trust the dichotomy of mercy and justice in the hands of our Judge.

These human advocates screwed up (from my perspective) and this human judge acted on incomplete information. But my Jesus advocate doesn’t say, “Meh. Oh well,” about overlooked paperwork. And my Almighty God judge knows all the details anyway.

Our house is still cold and dark and I can’t do anything about that. Our son is free to live his life as if none of this happened, and I can’t do anything about that either. What I can do is intentionally focus my heart and mind on the character of God – on His presence with me through all of it and His capability as advocate and judge.

And I can also make myself some fantastic bread.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in Adoption, God, Personal Growth, Recipes

 

So Messed Up

“What is the most broken and messed up thing in the world?” This conversation-starter was posted on Facebook today, and the answers have kept me interested all afternoon. Poverty, sexual abuse against women and children, the inaccessibility of plentiful resources like food and clean water, greed for power and money, the value of money outweighing the value of human life, the pandemic of broken families, terrorism.

I can’t argue against any of those. Nor can I argue that one is more messed up than the rest.

The answer I would contribute is that the sacredness of sexual purity is broken. That’s almost the same answer as sexual abuse, but it’s broader than that. Abuse happens because individuals lose (or never had) a sense of the sacredness of sexuality, and their selfishness drives them to inflict their perversion on other people. That trajectory is manifested in so many ways: pornography and child pornography, prostitution and sex slavery, adultery, rape and other forms of assault… The list goes on and on, and I believe it all stems from purity not being cherished and protected.

So much brokenness. It is so heavy. And it is so close. There’s no point in deluding ourselves into thinking the mess doesn’t touch our own yard. It’s here. It’s everywhere. And it sucks.

My heart is often heavy in prayer for broken loved ones. Abusive relationships, devastating illnesses, financial blows that keep on coming. I pray for them and I pray with them. And then, so often it feels like the next wave of trauma just sweeps right over us all. And sometimes bitterness creeps into my prayers. “Really, God? This is what You thought was a good answer? Because this is kind of the exact opposite of what we were praying for.” Sometimes I’m tempted to decline praying for someone lest they be sucked into the vortex of my run of bad “luck”.

The last couple of weeks have been especially overwhelming, with waves coming from every direction. Talking about brokenness on Facebook is too heavy, too close.

But it is timely.

As Easter approaches, I think it is worthwhile to consider the brokenness. The loss. The seemingly unmet expectations of our prayers and hopes. I’m sure that’s how Christ’s followers felt 2000 years ago as they watched Jesus being arrested, tossed back and forth between governing bodies in a sham of a trial, beaten and then condemned. Hour by hour, they must have felt like “This is as bad as it can get. He’s going to show Himself strong any moment now. He’s about to do the big miracle that we’ve been waiting for.” And then, no. Crucified.

The brokenness and the desperation of such loss – it’s unbearable. Where is the hope when it feels like God is playing a sick joke? How can we continue to cry out to Him for help when we can see how He’s answered all our prayers leading up to this point? How do we trust Him when it looks like He failed?

The answer lies in Sunday morning.  We find our hope in the resurrection, the triumph over death. We cling to that reality from centuries past, but it is also a picture of a coming final victory. The mess will be eradicated, the brokenness will be fully healed.

Today, we wait in the pause of Saturday, wallowing in brokenness and pain. We may question the purpose of the pause: why is He waiting? But let us not give up entirely. He is big enough to handle our doubts and bitterness and even accusations. He is patient enough to wait out our tears. He is purposeful enough to make use of the pause. And He is already victorious in the coming dawn.

Sunday is almost here.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2016 in God, Personal Growth

 

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More Treadmill Anger

The treadmill and I have a love/hate relationship. No wait, I said that wrong. The treadmill and I have a hate/hate relationship. There is no love at all. There is barely any like, and the squidgeon of like that sometimes pops up is only there for the first minute and the last minute of any workout.

When people say, “I love working out”, I have a carnal urge to correct them. It’s like saying, “Me and Joe seen a gooder movie than you’s guys.” All the words are wrong!

I do not like working out. I don’t like having difficulty breathing. I don’t like muscles that hurt for days. I don’t like having to change into workout clothes and then change again into normal clothes. I don’t like having to drink so much water. I don’t like sweat that stings my eyes (Why is my sweat saltier than my tears? Is that normal? I think it’s dumb.). And I don’t like all of the minutes when the treadmill is making me go faster or go uphill.

One of my children (for the sake of anonymity, I’ll call her Schmabi) is athletic and often says the words that don’t make sense. Also, when she sees me on the treadmill, she does not say the things that an encouraging person would say (like, “You’re doing great. Keep going. You can do it.”) She says, “Stop leaning on the handles.”

When I have enough breath (and/or enough exercise-induced anger), I answer, “You’re not the boss of me.” But most of the time I keep it simple with “Shut.” Breath. “Up.” Breath.

If I had more breath, I would be able to say, “This is not leaning. This is hanging on lest I die.”

Friends, the result of letting go of those handles is two-fold. First, I will lose my balance. Truly, that moving floor messes me up. The faster it moves, the more I look like Bambi and Phoebe competing in a three-legged roller derby. I am remarkably stable on solid ground and even on a balance beam, but once that tread starts milling, I lose all capability of putting one foot in front of the other in a reliable pattern. The handles do not move, therefore I must remain connected to them in order to remain verticle.

Second, I might just fly off the back of the Contraption of Imminent Death through the window that is forever behind me (deepest apologies for that unfortunate view, oh random passers-by). As that tread keeps milling faster and my legs keep trying to slow down, it is only my vice-grip on the handles that keeps me on this side of the Pearly Gates. My vice-grip does, in fact, add upper-body resistance training as well , so let’s call it multi-tasking and check all the exercise things off the to-do list.

So why am I working so hard at maintaining the insanity? After all, I’m not so overweight that my triumphant and inspirational journey to health will be the stuff of viral videos. The answer is simple: I need to change the trajectory. That is all.

And why am I blogging about it and making fun of myself on the global interwebbings? Because, unlike Schmabi, I want to be an encouragement to other people. If my ineptitude makes you feel more capable, great! If my whiny anger makes you feel less alone, perfect! If my eventual weight loss and forthcoming enviable physique inspire you to be healthier, win-win!

In the meantime, I do not expect to start liking the process…which means there will probably be more blog and Twitter rants coming. Consider yourself forewarned.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in Humour, Personal Growth

 

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My Treadmill Inner Dialogue

“This isn’t so bad. I can do this for 30 minutes. No wait….I’ve changed my mind. I hate this. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it!”

“Please. You’re not even running yet. You’re still warming up. You can’t hate it already.”

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t hate. I hate this. This is not fun. People who claim to enjoy exercising are psychopaths.”

“Zip it and run. You only have 24 minutes left to go.”

“Only? You can’t just put ‘only’ in front of a number and make it sound good. 24 minutes is not ‘only’.”

“Whatever. Just keep going.”

“My back is chafing. I want to stop.”

“It’s not chafing. Keep going.”

“It IS chafing. My fat rolls are rubbing together with every jiggly step. It’s annoying and I want to stop.”

“That is pretty much the universal sign that you actually need to KEEP GOING.”

“The universe is stupid. I hate it.”

“Mutual, I’m sure. Pick up the pace, Jabba.”

“One does not pick up one’s pace when one is on death’s precipice.”

“Speaking all uppity like that is not going to intimidate me. You know we’re the same person, right?”

“Then stop being so mean to us!”

“I am helping us. This is good for us. We want this!”

“Please. Stop. Making. Words.”

“Look, you’ve been running for 5 minutes now. 5 minutes! Last week you couldn’t keep up this pace for even 2 minutes. Look at all those calories you’re burning. The faster you go and the longer you keep your heart rate up, the sooner you’ll meet your calorie goal.”

“Calories…Great. Now I’m thinking about ice cream. I need ice cream.”

“You do not need ice cream. You don’t even really like ice cream.”

“I do so like ice cream! It’s not my favourite go-to snack, but I like it. And right now I’m hot. I’m so hot and my mouth is all dry. I need ice cream!”

“No, you need water.”

“…to wash down my ice cream?”

“You can MAYBE have ice cream later IF you meet your calorie goal now. (And by the way, I’m going to talk you out of the ice cream later).”

“What was that? A whisper? An aside? You can’t do that inside my own brain.”

“I just did. You can stop me…if you catch me first.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense. Wearethesameperson!”

“But you’re still running, so it’s working. And now you’ve been running for 9 minutes!”

“9 minutes? Consecutively? Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.”

“I know, right? If you keep it up for 3 more minutes, then you can drop to a fast walk for the rest of the time.”

“Oh, if I can keep this up for 3 more minutes, then maybe I’ll just keep it up for an EXTRA 2 minutes!”

“Maybe. But not likely. Let’s just be honest, okay?”

“Listen. You didn’t even think I could keep going for 9 minutes. And you were wrong.”

“I knew you could do 9 minutes. And I know you can get to 12 minutes. But after that, I’m pretty sure you will want to drop to a fast walk. Especially because then you can pick up your book and I will stop ‘making words’.”

“Yes. Books are better. Your words make me angry.”

“My words make you motivated.”

“Same thing. Anger is motivation.”

“Exactly. Oh look. 12 minutes of running. You may slow down and read now. But tomorrow you’re doing 14 minutes.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“No, no. Thank YOU.”

 

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Beauty, Humour, Personal Growth

 

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INeedANewBrain

Over the past 14 months, I’ve been taking a 12-month course in aromatherapy. (If you’ve noticed that I haven’t been writing as much, it’s because I’m “studying”.) Let me tell you two things about going back to school as an old person.

1. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Every single morning, I write a to-do list for the day. It usually includes things like shower and breakfast. Not because I’ll forget to do those things, but just so I can visualize everything and plan my day around time-inflexible items and priorities. Study is also on my list. But you know what? There are five other people in this house and even though they are unreasonably demanding, I am nice. So once or twice a week, I prioritize going to the grocery store over studying so that they can have food. And every now and then I prioritize laundry over studying so they won’t be naked or stinky. And at least once a day, I have to prioritize driving over studying so they won’t have to sleep at school. I am nice. And they should at least rub my feet or brush my hair or something.

My point is this: by the end of the day, I have often crossed off a whole bunch of things except study from my list. And then I go to bed and the next morning I write study on my new list. This has been going on for fourteen months.

2. My brain is mush. Being old means remembering stuff is hard. Recalling simple things like people’s names and important dates is teetering on the periphery of my mental capabilities. Memorizing botanical names like Vetiveria zizanioides and anatomical terms like occipital mastoidal suture is an excessive load for this mushy, old brain to bear.

I will now regale you with an entertaining story that happened just this week. My husband and I won a cool prize in a draw. (It’s an elite icewinemaker’s dinner at a winery in Niagara-On-The-Lake. Very fancy-schmancy. We are sophisticated like that.) One of my children commented, “Wow! You’ve never won something before!” I told him that’s not true at all and proceeded to list a bunch of things I’ve won over the years: a TV, my high school letter jacket, Taylor Swift perfume, a walk-on role in Les Mis, and I even won a pair of round-trip tickets to anywhere in the world that Air Canada flies – which I never got to use.

They wanted to hear that story! I explained that I won the tickets when I was in high school, but they had to be used within a fairly short period of time. I had already just missed a bunch of school for a conference that I was at and couldn’t immediately take more time off to go flying away to some random destination. “What conference?” they wanted to know. It was a student-focused citizenship conference in Ottawa, and a bunch of schools across Canada were allowed to send one student to represent their city.

Here’s what my precious offspring asked: “Why’d they choose you?” (Sometimes their preciousness is underwhelming to me.)

I answered, “Because I used to be smart.” I might as well have fabricated a tale about my years as a Russian spy, for all the credibility they afforded me. This image before them now – the woman who CANNOT EVER remember to turn on the dishwasher before she goes to bed at night – does not jive with the image of someone who once had potential.

Why am I telling you all this? For two simple reasons. One: I enjoy giving you a laugh at my expense. Two: if you are a praying person, I am begging you – BEGGING YOU – to add me to your list for this month. My aromatherapy exam is on February 5 and my anatomy exam is on February 12. My mushy, old brain is desperately trying to memorize 12 (going on 15) months of intense information and I need supernatural help to do it.

I’ll leave you with this interesting little note. There is a specific essential oil that stimulates the brain in such a way that if you smell it while you’re studying and then smell it again at a later date, it increases your ability to recall what you studied. Thing is, I can’t remember which oil.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2015 in Humour, Personal Growth

 

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My $0.02 on the Mental Health Discussion

This is not something I wanted to talk about publicly just yet. I’m still working through stuff and I’m not sure what to share or how much to share or even if it’s worth sharing. But I do try to write about things that are going on in my own life as they relate to current events, and since the news of Robin Williams’ death yesterday, the whole internet has been buzzing with talk about mental health. So maybe I need to just throw this out there. Maybe there’s someone that needs the tiny bit of encouragement I have to offer.

I saw a counselor last week.

There. I said it. And it wasn’t all that hard to say, surprisingly. Perhaps because now that the first appointment has come and gone and it went really well, the whole concept of therapy isn’t quite as overwhelming. It was HARD to make the appointment and it was EXCRUCIATING waiting for the appointment, which was only 2 days later. I was an anxious, nervous, nauseous mess.

But the appointment was good.

I recognize that my one appointment (so far) does not qualify me as an expert in all things related to mental health. Far from it! But while everyone is talking about mental health and depression and suicide, I want to throw my two cents in.

Mental health is not limited to depression. There are a whole bunch of other issues that could be plaguing you, and which could be beneficially addressed by a counselor or other mental health professional. Anxiety, guilt, fear, grief, anger – if you are dealing with any of these things on a consistent basis, to the point that you aren’t sure you’re coping well and you can’t really remember what it was like to not be dealing with it, it’s time to get some support.

Many of these feelings overlap and can easily be confused with depression, but I would suggest that the defining point is when you start to feel that you’re not worthy of getting help.  That is a lie. You are worthy of help and getting help is not as scary as you think it is.

Mental health is not limited to chemical imbalance. That is certainly a common factor, and it can often be treated somewhat easily with medication. But there are other factors to also consider: spirituality, personal history (abuse or other trauma), current crises (financial, relational, occupational…), or an overload of stress from the chaos of day-to-day life. If yours is a chemical problem and medication works for you, great! If it’s a chemical problem and you haven’t yet found the right balance of the right medication, keep trying!

If it’s not a chemical problem, keep talking it out with a therapist or counselor that hears you. Being truly heard will go a long way in helping you to sort out how you feel – which makes it easier to express how you feel and then be better heard. It’s a positive, healing cycle. But in order to find that right person who’s a good match for you, you have to be willing to ask for referrals. Ask friends. Ask a pastor or spiritual mentor. Ask your doctor.

Now let me tell you a tiny bit about my session. After explaining the situation that was (is) causing my anxiety and anger, the counselor validated my distress and walked me through some advice to address the cause. I truly expected that the focus would be on fixing my craziness, so it was a pleasant surprise to think that maybe there is hope for addressing the root cause instead of just letting that cause fester and giving me tools to cope with it better. That made me feel less crazy.

The counselor also asked me how this was affecting our marriage. I told her that my husband thinks I’m starting to lose it. “Are you?” she asked.

“Maybe,” I answered. “I don’t know. I think I’m on the verge of losing it, but I’m trying really hard to still be objective. But would I even know if I’ve already gone off the deep end? I know this isn’t me. I used to be strong and capable and optimistic… and right now I don’t know if I will ever be that person again. Does that mean I’ve lost it?”

Her answer was so freeing, it’s bringing me to tears just to reiterate it here. She said that I am still that person. I am strong. There is no strength in thinking you don’t have a breaking point. Everyone has a breaking point. Strength is recognizing that you have reached the breaking point and then getting help before you actually break.

I think that’s all I want to say about this right now. I may be able to share more eventually. But for today, I hope this has been helpful to someone.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Adoption, Personal Growth