Brokenness is better than a hallelujah

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God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

She was just a mess, broken pieces, shards of glass. And as she sat on a bridge one fine October day, feet dangling over the water’s edge, all she could think of was how much she hated him. How much he drove her crazy. They would never make it, him and her. They were too different. Too opposite. And he didn’t understand her- what made her tick, what fueled her tank.

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Months had passed into years, and she had all but given up hope. Things were just too far gone. There was no hope for this situation- they would never get it right. Some things were not meant to be. And they were one of these things: mismatched, unevenly aligned. Two people going in two different directions.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

She had talked about it for quite some time to the one person she trusted the most with these kinds of details. And that person had supported her through it all, but had also stipulated that they believed God was in this marriage, even if the Girl didn’t yet see it. That person said they were praying. They could see the best in this impossible situation. The Girl wasn’t so sure. In spite of her limited faith, the hope that the One Praying had, seemed to do for both of them.

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Besides, it was not due to wrongs that either she or the Man had done to one another in any moral sense that this Great Divide had been created: it was due more to those little hurts that come by way of more intangible situations. From depriving one another love, from holding back. From the cold that grows inside a heart that is turned off love. And in time, little hurts like these can give way to bigger ones: anger, resentment, fear, insecurity, sadness, isolation, anxiety, panic and loneliness.

The tears of shame for what’s been done
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

So when she found herself telling him that she wished it was over, wished that she had never even begun, it was almost like the floor had finally given way in a dilapidated old house that had served its purpose one too many years. Everything fell apart.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And while I still don’t know quite what happened, I can say that one day the Girl woke up and there was a change in her heart. She couldn’t quite put her finger on the exact moment, the time and day. But she knew somehow, someway- something had changed. She was different- and so was he. There had been something miraculous happen to bridge the Gap between them, something had toppled the massive walls that had been erected to separate, fortresses made from the strongest of materials. Something had changed between them. They were no longer enemies, at odds with one another. They were friends.

Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out

The Girl and the Boy tentatively adjusted to their new life, lived in freedom from the former chains. Chains that had once held them captive and enslaved to their own self-serving interests were now broken. They were gone. And the Girl and her Boy lived in peace with one another, free to love each other. Free to love themselves. And free to serve one another in love.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And because they had witnessed nothing short of a miracle, it was right to tell the world. That their broken mess of a marriage had been made into something beautiful. Just like a broken hallelujah from the lips of one breathing their last. Just like a melody from one who has lived to see another day. Their lives were a living testament to grace. Their lips could do nothing less than sing of God’s amazing grace.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

When we share with one another the brutal in our lives, along with the beautiful, we are able to clearly see the truth on which our lives are built. Unashamed and unconcealed. Broken and free. We are unchained melodies.

For we are more than just the pretty details we show one another in social media, more than the cute pictures we post on Facebook, the funny stories we share in our news feeds. We are more than just the casual “I’m fine” that we say so flippantly when asked how we are doing. We are people with real lives, real stories. Real pain. And none of our lives are perfect. None of us has that market cornered yet. We live lives of suffering that can be marked on a continuum that measures the varying degrees. And none can judge the shoes another walks in because we cannot ever know the pain we feel inside. Cannot really know the emptiness of wondering, “Is this all there really is?” This has to be one of the greatest points of despair in a person’s journey: wondering what is the purpose of a pointless life that seems to be heading nowhere. This is grief at its lowest, this is emptiness in its fullest.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Can we believe this truth?
Our lives are better than a beautiful melody sung by angels.
Our tears are better than a hallelujah uttered in church on Sunday morning.
Our cries are better than an Amen.
Our rage is better than apathy.
Our anger is better than indifference.
Our acknowledgement of the brokenness of our lives is better than a hallelujah.

Bearing truth to the messy, complicated in our lives is better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

(It’s better than a hallelujah sometimes)

Words to the song “Better Than A Hallelujah” are written by Amy Grant

The Purpose of Prayer

Prayer is something we as Christians take for granted as part and parcel of our life and calling, but it is something really of an enigma for most of us. You see, we are told that we can ask anything in Jesus’ name and it will be given to us. But when we ask, we so often find that there is no response. We sense quiet from God. Maybe even an absence.

Prayer can seem like a wasted moment at best- a farce at worst.

I am in the kitchen watching my Mom make us coffee when she casually mentions that she and a mutual friend (living at a distance from her for every year she has known her) have prayed for each others’ children, as part of a promise to one another made many years earlier. The fact that I have been prayed for by a woman who has not really known me (and who has largely just heard of me through stories told of me by my own mother) is all quite humbling. I have been thought of and mentioned in the presence of God, before His face- by someone who considers my life to be of value enough to pray for me daily. Incredibly touching.

In fact, Mom tells me that this friend has been praying for her five children (and vice versa) since we were all knee-high to a grasshopper. That is a long time to pray, as I am now 40 and no longer a child. I marvel at the commitment this kind of prayer practice takes- to pray for your friend’s children year after year after year, and I think about this a bit before I find myself heading to beat the rush to the shower. As I continue to get ready for the day, I am struck by the fact that I do not pray as vigilantly for my own four children, let alone anyone elses’ (for that matter), as do these two women. They are amazing prayer warriors. In fact, when I consider my personal belief in the power of prayer, I find myself coming up short. I have to ask myself: do I believe that prayer works? And that it can impact lives?
Do I really think prayer changes things?

As I am thinking, I begin to reflect on some recent changes in my life and how these changes have made a major impact on the relationships I hold the closest. In fact, I think of marriage and my relationship to Husband and how our whole married life has been a struggle to find common ground. I consider the fact that marriage has never come easy to either one of us and that we have too many times wondered if marriage was really the right decision for us as a couple. I think about the times we both hit rock bottom, wondering if we would ever find ourselves rising to the surface again. I think of the despair.

And while I am thinking, I consider my own life- the dreams and hopes and aspirations. I think about the ‘would have beens’, the ‘could have beens’- the seemingly missed opportunities. The regrets.

I think about the struggle I have had in finding and nurturing my passion.
I think about how hard parenting has been.
I think about relationships and how difficult they sometimes can be.
I think about my struggle with depression and loneliness- my insecurities and anxiety.

And I think, as I contemplate my life in a nutshell- all while standing there in the shower- I think about two women praying for me. Daily. Consistently. Without fail.

Has the hope I have sensed of late been a long-time answer to an unmet prayer humbly offered by two faithful praying women?
I cannot help but surmise that it wasn’t answers they sought, trophies they pursued: it was hope they were after. Believing that their faith would be honored, knowing that the regularity in which they petitioned their Savior would not return to them void. And all because two praying women believed.

Faith is believing.
Not just in what we hope for- but in what our wildest hopes could never even imagine.
Faith is knowing.
Not just what we think might be true- but what we can hardly even envisage might be possible.
Faith is trusting.
Not just in what seems like a sure bet- but in what feels unattainable.
Faith is expectant.
Already trusting that what is about to unfold is carefully being held in God’s faithful, loving Hands. It has already happened in God’s eyes. We just need to trust.

When relationships are built on believing conviction like this, it no longer matters what we are asking from the One involved in this dynamic- what matters is Who we are asking. The crux of prayer is: Who we are praying to. Who is listening? And Who can meet the need? I really think the point of prayer is not to see a wish-list/bucket list of wants and desires granted, as if God were some Fairy God-father, but rather it is there to grow us in relationship. Closer to Him. Closer to each other.

Prayer is our connection to God. And it strengthens our connections to one another.

It’s the point of prayer- to draw us close.

As I stand there in the shower, on yet another Good Friday morning (two more days until Easter and the hope and promise it offers), I start to see that there is evidence that Someone is changing me, drawing me ever closer to His Heart. Evidence that Someone loves me and wants me to love Him back. And evidence that Someone desires to know me- my needs and wants and fears and joys. Someone is reaching out to me- I just have to have faith to know He’s there. I just have to believe even as I reach out myself, through prayer.

And when I do, I sense that knowing- that understanding. God is there. He’s real. And prayer really works- maybe not for the self-serving intents of my own needs and wants, but certainly for the Higher Purpose of drawing me close to the One who’s got the whole world in His Hands.
Prayer works- if for nothing else than to change me from the inside out, and that is more than enough reason to choose to really pray, starting today.

Truth-telling time: I am hot mess

I get the call that I have forgotten-yet again– what I am suppose to be doing. This is me: post new-mommy brain, pre-dementia. There must be another label for this forgetfulness that I am so prone to that is more forgiving.

Having missed an appointment at the mechanic’s, I find that Husband, having not gotten me on my cell (phone turned down), has called the school TWICE to find out ‘where in tarnation’ I am. I am, of course, in my classroom (good teacher that I am)… tidying up loose ends, not a care in the world. I get paged twice over the school intercom (while I meanwhile attempt to run out of the classroom and into the room next door to mine, so as to answer his phone call…all while carrying on a conversation with a colleague—all as if my life didn’t depend on the next two minutes). Yes, this is me. Legitimately absent-minded.

This quick-thinking (or so I think) appears like it will work to save the day, but I soon come to realize Hubby has now given up on me and is pursuing alternative means. Read: he has left his own place of work and is now driving QUICKLY towards mine. I clue in pretty quick as well when my VP announces that he’s hung up on me- that it is TIME FOR ME TO VACATE THE PREMISES. I gather the girls, forget my lunch upstairs in the staff room fridge in the process- and thrust myself through the doors and towards my awaiting van. Which happens to now be parked in a small lake which has formed since I last exited the vehicle.

I pull out of the parking lot, turn onto the road and then honk at hubby as he goes by in the opposite direction, a man who appears to be looking a tad confused and a bit dazed at what could possibly be happening with his wife. She seems to have lost ALL her marbles.

We do finally connect- at the garage.  It is not, I’m afraid, the blissful reunion of which fairy-tales are made.

And you would assume, I’m sure, that I would use the five minute drive home in the truck, riding shotgun beside my Handsome Hubby…to apologize profusely and admit my wrongs. You over-estimate me yet again. Instead, you find me creating endless scenarios and reasons for which to cover my puny Behind, making excuses for why I had forgotten the appointment and on and on we go…as well as find me coming up with endless ways in which to complain about all the other things that have gone wrong with my day OF WHICH HUBBY HAS BEEN AN ACCOMPLICE IN MY ILL-ADVENTURES. Read again: it is entirely his fault that my day has now had the bottom fall out from beneath it.

But of course.

And so, I carry this sour mood home with me as I find umpteen more ways in which to complain and find fault with him and everything else in the world. There is no limit to my impatience.

All this, until I find myself standing at the sink with a scowl on my face and more words in which to throw scathingly in his direction… when I find gentle arms wrapped around my waist, kind hands holding me. His hands, holding me- this ball of tension, this ring of fire. And I feel within me the blaze simmer to a smouldering heat of warmth. And I let him hold me that way until I finally feel I can turn to him, tears in my eyes. Shame in my soul.

For what do I deserve- this mess that I am?  What do I deserve.  But more of the same of which I have offered- that, and then some. I receive back nothing but grace.

In talking about her inability to see the good in people- as she wished she could more often do, Doris Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, penned these words with regards to those people she served daily, who were found living as addicts and otherwise broken in spirit and soul:

“If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travellers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.”

When I think of the absolutes of good and evil, I can only believe that God has called us to see in each other the good, while He gently reminds us through the grace that we receive of our own shortcomings. I only know of evil when I feel the warmth of good. I am only reminded of grace when I see within myself my own errors and shortcomings. There would never be a need for grace if I wasn’t in possession of a deficit of kindness somewhere along the line. And so today, I saw within myself the need for grace- because I was offered much. And so freely.

In writing about Doris Day, Philip Yancey (2010) had this to say ( and I paraphrase): It was Dorothy Day’s brutal honesty about herself- her unwed pregnancy, her biting tongue, her quick temper- self-owned flaws that society (no doubt) pointed out in her as wrongs. It was then her own failings that allowed her to show grace to others. Yancey went on to say that grace is there for those who see themselves as broken- not primarily for those who believe that all is well.

Grace abounds in brokenness.

It is the flaws that we own within ourselves that enables grace to shine brightest. I soon feel tears come to the surface as he speaks gently, showering gracious, loving- KIND words over me. Seeing yet again that because I have been shown grace, I can then use this occasion to myself show gracious kindness in return, first to him and then to others. Covering all with grace.

For all is grace, if it is anything at all.

And so, I am then able to cover all that is around me with that grace I now sense, knowing deep within my own soul that there is an abiding sense of Love’s Presence. All is forgotten and I am free to carry on.

Grace-infused.

Tell Him

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He might not bring you breakfast in bed every morning…but if he starts the coffee maker without asking, he’s a keeper.
He might not leave the sink clean, hang up the towels or remember his dirty socks; but if he has the lunches packed and ready to go- complete with each child’s likes and requests, the guy’s a keeper.
He might not clean up his crumbs, remember to hang the dish towel up to dry or do the laundry- but if the van is scraped and ready to go even before you are in it, you’ve got yourself a true gem.
He might not be a cook, a cleaner, a mopper, a walker or even a super-listener or talker: but when you need him, you know he’ll be there.
He might not be in possession of all of those elusive qualities you once thought you needed. But in time, you have come to realize that it really doesn’t matter: he is exactly what you require. He’s it- your match. And you know now that you really could not do without him, for he is perfectly suited to meet your personality and character. Made to be your other half. You were meant for each other. He and you, you and him.
And although you might not be everything that a person was destined to be either (but, hey! who’s keeping track), he loves you anyway. Loves you for who you are, how you are- exactly the way you are.
Loves you for being YOU.
And because he loves you- it doesn’t matter anymore what might have been. Could have, should have, would have been. All that matters is what it is anyway. What it is right now.
And maybe, like me- you’ve decided that what is yours as a couple is imperfectly perfect. Just the way it happens to be. Even if it might mean that LIFE isn’t perfect- that life isn’t always the way you’d like it.
What matters is the two of you. And what you’ve got is all you’ve ever needed.
Just the way it is.
Go ahead- tell him you love him. Say the words. And while you are at it, tell yourself that whether or not he remembers to throw out the trash/pick his clothes up off the floor/tidy his papers: he’s still your best friend.
Never forget how much you love him.

And chances are, (with this kind of imperfect formula in play),he’ll not forget how very much he loves you back.

Why We Care

She slouches on the vinyl chair next to mine, chewing her lip, twirling her hair. Wrinkles creasing her brow. And as she sits, I wonder.  Is she thinking of what to expect, even as she knows the reason for why we are here? Or is there more to the wonder than mere childlike speculation?

The reason for why we have left the house at such a crazy-early hour to drive for two hours was not, of course, to only sit and wait. We are here for other more pressing concerns. And yet, there is always the fear of the great unknown- especially for a child.

Not to mention of course the apprehension it brings the mother.

The doctor arrives with a bluster of energy and vigour. She immediately puts at ease what was formerly a worry. What was moments ago a source of stress, a source of concern, is now an afterthought in light of this physician’s delightful presence. She just seems to do this work so naturally- without a thought to the magic she has achieved. Weaving a tapestry of compassion through her laid-back banter, silly jokes and thoughtful concern. But then again: doesn’t care always have that gentle way of easing, of lessening the burden? And as the moments tick toward the hour we will spend in this tiny little room, I find my daughter relaxing. Find her unwinding, creased brow giving way to a smile. And all this because a doctor has chosen to spend this hour in this room with us, taking the time needed to care for the person, rather than merely just diagnosing the patient.

If a busy doctor, bound by the relentless expectations and constraints that often define this demanding profession, can make the time to show caring, compassionate concern, so might we do much of the same in the field of education.

It is not a matter of should- it is a matter of how.

How can we invest in the lives of our students in caring, compassionate ways even as the demands around us increase exponentially?

We can and we must, and one way I propose this can be done is through investing in care. That is, making it a priority to value the person that is the student- along with the tandem idea of valuing the people as a whole which comprise our classroom community. Through valuing and giving worth to the human beings that represent the education system in which they are found, we give credence to the humanity of the students. We recognize the person-hood of each boy and girl, man or woman who sit in front of us day after day. And this- all achieved by seeing though the test scores, records and data to the very real hearts and souls of the children and teenagers that we are called to teach. Taking the time to know the story of their lives instead of reducing them to a number and figure on paper. Taking the time to understand the context in which the students we learn alongside- live, work and play. For when this happens, we can fully care for our students in their learning, development and growth even while the system might appear to breath heavy down our necks. After all, if we sacrifice care on the altar of academic standards of excellence, haven’t we lost everything?

Standards mean little if the people that represent them are dehumanized.

My Five Wishes for the Upcoming School Year

It’s August. And as it happens to be my holidays, I am knee-deep in summer lovin’. I have paint spatters on my legs from the fresh coat I applied to the veranda this afternoon, a good book waiting for me on the couch and the idea in my head of a glass of iced coffee just waiting for me to drink it. Thoughts of school, teaching and work might be a million miles away from my immediate consciousness.

But are they?

As a teacher, this time of the year is one where my mind drifts to ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’. To possibilities. Summer is the time of year when teachers are finally afforded the TIME in which to breathe, take stock and think about what is yet to come. So while I am not ready to cash in on summer yet, here are a five wishes I have for the upcoming school year, set to start in a few short weeks.

1. I wish for this upcoming school year that we as teachers act on the principle that education be not only about the mind. It be about the person. That is, the whole person. I love what Nel Noddings has to say on the topic:

“…school, like the family, is a multipurpose institution. It cannot concentrate only on academic goals any more than a family can restrict its responsibilities to, say, feeding and housing its children. The single-purpose view is not only morally mistaken, it is practically and technically wrong as well, because schools cannot accomplish their academic goals without attending to the fundamental needs of students for continuity and care” (Noddings, 2005, p. 63).

What Noddings is saying here is that school must function in continuity for the purpose of caring for students as whole persons, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge. Students have minds, yes- but they also have souls and bodies which both require care and attention in the course of the day, along with caring for the student’s mind for academic, physical, emotional and relational pursuits. My wish is for educators to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information. The possibilities for growth and development are endless.

2. There is a lot of wasted time in school. Time wasted before school while waiting for all the buses to arrive, time wasted in line-ups, in wait time, in coming and going places. Another wasted time of day is lunch time. Sure, it gets used for eating and sustenance- but wouldn’t it be great if lunch time was an opportunity for growing community, in the very same ways that those families who see it as a priority use it to grow family attachments? What I am talking about, and this is another one of Noddings’ beliefs as well- is the importance of mealtime. Breaking bread in the very real sense of the word. Mealtime is a time to talk and listen, a time to discuss and reflect. A time for sharing and caring. A time when what is said is not evaluated and assessed- but taken at face value and respected. If students were given this opportunity, to sit face-to-face, as might a family eating a meal together, how might that benefit in a positive way the dynamics of social interactions amongst students? We’ll never know until we give it a try.

3. There is very little choice for students in school- very little choice for teachers either. We have all been given the required curriculum and asked to adopt it as our own. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if students and teachers were able to work together to come up with themes and pursuits that might reflect curriculum ideals, using them as springboards for further areas of study and exploration. Using curriculum jazzed up with a healthy dose of imagination, critical thinking and creativity to make these extra-curricular projects work within the existing structure? I think the sky is certainly the limit for those who give it a chance. Who knows what new interests might be sparked for learning amongst students who are currently disenfranchised, disengaged and disempowered. The time is now for outside the box thinking and teaching..

4. My wish for teachers and students is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day, standing beside us at our desks, walking along in front of us or behind us in the hallways- each person going and coming in the hustle and bustle: each person is a person. A person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains. They are a person with more than meets the eye. And I wish for all those who find themselves in the educational milieu, that is MY HOPE would be, that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools: the humanity of the students, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, the administration and any visitors that might find themselves walking through the hallways. May we always be known as a People that care. And may that define each and every one of us this year.

5. And as a final note- may we have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to play? Time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to doodle, and draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest and time to work. And may we never forget that learning is a life-time pursuit. We don’t want to burn out the creative fires until the very last embers of life have been snuffed out, when we find ourselves breathing our last. May we always be found learning each and every day of our life- and may it be a joyous, delightful, exciting, inspiring and worthwhile venture.

These five are among my wishes for you all- for we are all learners. And for those of us who call ourselves teachers, staff and students, as we set off in another few short weeks for another voyage, another adventure of learning, wonder and discovery: let’s not forget to take care of each other in the process.

Carry on, comrades!

{You can read this again on the Huffington Post by clicking on this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/back-to-school-2014_b_5656507.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-living }

 

Satisfied

I am running up the uneven and worn sidewalk blocks, grass growing up between them. Frost from past winter’s freeze has shifted and changed their original direction. Water soaks the ground beneath my feet, splashing up and over the sides of a rather closely situated water slide. I run towards the entry point high above so that I too might ride, running towards the staircase as if I am ten years old again. Ten years old: just like my Sarah who made this milestone today at exactly 6:26 p.m. this very evening. I race up the slope towards the inclined steps that lead to two rather small and well-used waterslides. Small but perfect- that’s my view. These waterslides: ‘just right’ for the forty-year old woman who believes she just might have a ten-year old heart. Perfect for me.

And oh! the exhilaration. To stretch one’s body in pike position and feel the speed. The water beneath and the wind above. Yes, for some it might be a small thrill. But for me, I am just satisfied. Satisfied! With this. All of this. This day and the juxtaposition of special and mundane. This weather, a mix of rain and sun. This park, this place, these people.

I’m satisfied.

Satisfaction. It’s a form of contentment. A feeling of being fulfilled. It is an experience of pleasure, happiness and joy. A state of being gratified. Grateful for what one has, whatever that “what’ might happen to be. Grateful for the small- grateful for the vast. It is a sentiment that calls one to give thanks for the gifts ones has been given, seeing the gift in the ordinary simplicity of everyday life. Feeling satisfied with commonplace, everyday pleasures. Commonplace, everyday blessings. When we are no longer able to feel satisfied, something happens. We start feeling ungrateful. Unappreciative. We start looking around, noticing that what we have is less than what others might have- not as special and unique as what someone else has in their possession beside us or next to us. We start evaluating our stuff, our things, our situation, our people- on the basis of what we see around us. We place unfair expectations on the gifts we’ve been given, unwisely wanting them to be something they were never meant to be. And then, there is a feeling of desire that ensues. Desire that craves something more, something bigger, brighter, better, bolder. Something beyond.

It’s a nasty cycle. And it can lead to darker places by the name of Greed and Envy and Jealousy and Dissatisfaction. Trust me, I’ve been there. They are not places you’d wish to visit.

We all know our vulnerabilities. Our area of weakness. It’s how we shift our thinking so as to make our response one of satisfaction, one of sweet contentment rather than one of discontentment and irritation. This is what that determines our joy.

And what a difference a day can make.

Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling frustrated. I was not happy with anything- the state of my house, the state of the day’s affairs, the people around me, the fact that it was August. I mean August: the summer might as well just end RIGHT NOW, now that August has arrived. Am I right?

And no. Nothing made any difference. I was just miserable. The more I thought about how miserable I was, the more miserable things were. I found bugs in the beds (seriously? Gross me out the door), dirt on the floors (okay, so this is every day, all day), clutter on every conceivable living space in my house (ditto). I couldn’t seem to get out of the kitchen for the life of me, one project led to another and then to another and so on. By noon, I was hot, sweaty and tired. I felt a headache coming on. And I was just ready to throw in the towel.

I might have thrown in the towel. There have been a lot of towels going through my washing machine lately. But at the end of the day, I went to bed, only to wake up again this morning. And I discovered something. I have a lot to be thankful for in this little house of mine. This little world I call my own.

What a difference a day makes.

Nothing in my environment really changed with the dawning of this new day. Same house, same mess, same people. It’s just that here we are together again- in this brand new beautiful day. We are alive, we are together…and we’re here. And what’s not to love about a fresh start? This is not to say that feeling frustrated and discouraged is wrong or shameful. It’s just to say that it is not really much fun. It’s actually depressing. And so I choose today- joy. Joy, and peace and contentment. I choose to see all that I have as the gift it is, rather than as the burden it might seem to be. I choose to see what I have been given as delight rather than trouble. And in so doing, I find myself feeling more and more content.

In so doing, I find myself satisfied.

So today, I am satisfied for the fact that I found no bugs in my bed. Score. Satisfied again because I wasn’t baking anything today- I bought a store-bought cake for precious Sarah- and she loved every bite of it. Score again. And I got to race my Husband and beat him FOUR TIMES ON THE WATERSLIDES. Score, score score. And they say that three times is a charm.

It all is- it’s all a gift. And for all this and so much more- I’m satisfied

Why I need my kids

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I stand beside her, tipping the muffin tray ever so slightly so that the batter will have that much more of a chance of making it into the hollow. She is intent on her task: lifting two ‘full-to-running-over’ spoons dripping with banana cupcake batter up and over the side of the porcelain bowl, toward the final destination- the muffin tray. It is tedious work, requiring a steady hand.

“I don’t need you to hold the bowl,” she says more than once. I do not concede her the victory on this one, and so we continue to work side by side. I believe she needs me. She, one just learning this art of food preparation; albeit, I will admit that each time she takes on a culinary project, that much more competence is shown in her attention to detail. Even so, I stay- diligently by her side until every last rounded chamber has been filled with creamy goodness.

We are finishing off one cupcake tray and sending it to the hot oven to bake, when she turns and says to me, “You do the rest- I am baked out.” Which is to say, she’s had enough. And so, the Little One who didn’t need me moments before now suddenly discovers that she indeed does need me to immediately finish up her task. As I am her Mama and I love her dearly, I bow to her request. She needs me.  I intuitively know this, meaning I am ever at the ready to step in when she needs a helping hand.

I don’t mind being needed.

Yes, I am still in that stage of life- where I am needed.  Although this stage is seemingly passing quickly, like sand in an hourglass. This shifting stage wherein I find myself: a time of life when I feel the pull, the tug- of little hands. Little voices calling out, “Mommy?” Little cries. And then again, big cries sometimes too. Even the Big Ones need their mother. The steady constant in my life at present is that these little (and not-so-little) people in my life are always in need of a mother’s touch. A mother’s hand, her patient reassurance. I am needed, even in this evolving phase of motherhood. Even as the years move at lightning speed toward these uncertain years ahead of parenting, where I know I will find myself meeting new needs, new requests. Where I will find myself being needed by my Fearless Four in new and different ways.

As the years press on, I am coming to see that I need them too. I need my children. This care that I have given them- it sometimes aches for something back. The returns are there- I am reminded daily to keep my eyes open to see them, my hands at the ready to receive them. But I am aware: I need them as much as they need me.

I need my kids.

This afternoon, I was feeling pressed. I had twenty coming for a birthday supper and by 3:00 p.m., I knew I was either going to have to tear myself in half or invent an assistant. Daughter hopped into the van for a ride up to the dollar store to buy the necessities (plus a treat for her- of course) and on the ride back, I asked her to help me with a certain task for which I knew I would not have time to do otherwise. She agreed. The job: to decorate our log cabin for her brother’s birthday get- together. I handed her a bag and did not place any expectations on her one way or the other. As I drove away from the cabin and towards our house to prepare the meal, I regretted that I had not given her any string to hang the balloons.

Whatever would be would be.

Upon my return, I loaded up my arms with food and assorted other items, then walked the few short steps it took to take me into our cabin to unload. My eyes caught sight of the party center which my daughter had undertaken to prepare in my absence. And I was immediately taken aback. Not only had she decorated- she had arranged things far more neatly and tidily than I would have ever thought to do. A banner hung over the table, balloons graced the fireplace mantle. She had arranged candy on the table as party favours. The table was set with a brand new tablecloth and cutlery was sitting in cups ready for the taking. It was all arranged and displayed beautifully, again- more attractively than I would ever have taken the time for. And all this, from a daughter who had initially stated her uncertainty to take on such a task.

She had no idea how much I needed this.  Needed her.  And I wonder, do our children know how very much we need them?

We assume as parents our role is to be the providers, the caretakers. The ones who meet the needs. But if we never allow our children to take on this role, how will they one day be able to care for the significant others in their future lives? Forget the future- our children must also learn to care in the here and now, for there is value in coming to care for others even in the present. No child is ever too small to care. Our children from a very young age need to know what it means to take care of another’s needs, for the sheer value of contributing to those people in their lives at present as well to prepare them for one day being the caregiver themselves to those dependents they will ultimately responsible for.

I think children are born for this. Born to care. A newborn gurgles and coos in adoration at the sound of their mother’s voice. This is a responsive gesture, acknowledging the relationship that is being built between parent and child. Without that coo, that giggle or smile, the mother can easily find her own resources drained. We need our babies love and response- it is what keeps us going in those fragile first days when exhaustion threatens to undo us. A toddler’s little arms are made for hugging, for reaching out and stroking hair, lovingly caressing their loved one’s face. Their little bodies crave the physical touch- it is their way of meeting the need of their parent- a need to be loved in the best three-year old way that child knows how, love shown through touch. And as children grow, there are so many ways they can learn to say ‘I love you’- love letters and notes left hidden under a pillow, simple words of thanks, unspoken gratitudes expressed by a wink or a nod. These are all ways children learn to show care- things parents need and crave and desire in our relationship with our kids. So that we can sustain our own caring back to them.

We need these gestures as parents- they carry us through these long days that challenge and tire us. Because let’s face it: parenting is a tough gig. Parents are always giving. Always offering more and more of ourselves. Always sacrificing and placing our childrens’ needs first. And so we should. But sometimes we need to learn to receive a little- for the benefit of our children.

So that they can learn to care.

Because at the end of the day, when our children are enabled to give back, are enabled to learn how to care because we as parents afforded them the exquisite opportunity of experiencing the blessing, they are then given a blessing in return. The blessing of caring for another.

Truly, what greater human blessing can we give our children than this?

Offering gratitude

I remember the Christmas I was about seven or eight years old. I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. It was all I really wanted that year, to be honest. I had made that much clear to anyone who was listening (Mom, Dad, Santa….God?). I think I dreamed about her, my doll: those chubby cheeks, that rag-doll yarn hair. Those two lumpy pig-tails tied with ribbons, along with the signature on her rounded derriere that guaranteed she was truly made by ‘the’ Xavier Roberts. To have a Cabbage Patch doll would have been to have a dream come true. An answer to prayer, even. (I am not sure if I prayed for her, my non-existent dollie- but to think that I might have makes total sense.)

So imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas gift that year to find a beautiful china doll with porcelain skin staring back at me instead of a dimpled plastic one. This replacement other- this actual doll was a fine toy complete with dark, wavy hair, finely stitched Victorian dress and a velvety blue bonnet that just never would stay put on that her head. She was lovely, but she wasn’t a Cabbage Patch Kid.

I don’t remember feeling very thankful.

What I do remember was receiving that doll and the disappointment I felt. She was beautiful, elegant and far more of a classic in comparison to the trendy Cabbage Patch doll I craved. But she wasn’t what I asked for. I felt quietly disappointed about the whole thing.

Years later, I find myself still asking. Only this time, my requests aren’t as trivial and innocent.

“Please God, protect them…” “Please God, allow rest…” Please God bring healing…” “Please God, more time…” “Please God….please.” Sometimes the litany of request feels like a shopping list of needs that I rhyme off- with hopes that I will get everything on my list. But what if what I am asking for is no longer in stock? What if it is not available at this time? What if what I am asking for is something not the very best for me- nor the very best for those for whom I am requesting that certain something? What is best, anyway? Do I even know?

What if prayer was less a list of ‘please give…’ and more of an “I thank you…”? What would prayer be like then? Would it change?

Our lives are full of blessings. Some of those blessings come through rays of sunshine and hope. Some of the blessings come through tears and storm clouds. But through the joyous moments and through the difficult times, there are slices of time when light shines through and we see the absolute beauty in life. Yes, our lives are precious in all their complexity- even in the midst of absolute darkness and sorrow, beams of light will radiate.

These little moments for me can be seen as answers to prayer. True, these little blessings are not always the big ticket items on my proverbial prayer shopping list- sometimes they are just those little somethings I noticed out of the corner of my eye. The little things. Things like…

• A friend stopping by to say they are thinking of me
• A phone call just when I needed it
• A message, email or note
• A smile timed just right
• A hug
• A drive to Tim’s
• A rainbow
• My flowers blooming
• A found kitten

The little things in life are sometimes what bring the greatest joy in my darkest hour. They are what get me through.

I have been asking God for some pretty big-ticket items lately. I have a feeling a few of us might be in this same boat. But I wonder if we have sometimes forgotten how to pray gratitude into our prayers. To thank instead of ask. To offer gratitude.

To thank God for the gift of time- what a precious commodity that is. To thank God for the gift of memories- we have such precious recollections of the ones we love- even as we make new memories each and every day. To be grateful for each moment we’ve been given. Even for today. To just relish the very minutes we have right now and breathe a prayer of thanks for this priceless gift.

We are so blessed.

Our lives may seem complex, complicated, rushed, maddening, stressful, anxious and short. But viewed through a different lens, they can also be seen as beautiful, intricate, intense and precious. Our lives are a masterpiece- and this life is only the beginning.

For every breath we’ve been given, our grateful hearts say “thanks”.

Walking humbly

I knew I had to do it- even last night as twilight gave way to darkness. But the frustration was still close to the surface. The feelings. And I found a myriad of reasons to explain my behavior, to ease the sting of my wrong done. Somehow, peace just would not come and so it was, I found myself wrapping my arms around her this morning, hugging her tight. I apologized then- for the way I handled my frustration last night. For what I did unkindly, in the heat of a moment. I asked her for forgiveness. And she offered it, freely. The ones we love the most are the ones we hurt the most frequently. And sometimes we forget that in offering those two little words ‘I’m sorry’ backed by heartfelt meaning we find the perfect way- the only peace-filled way in which to live, love and practice the art of forgiveness (that ancient art of letting go and loving wholly).

Forgiveness is a well-worn path leading to love.

Recently, I was ‘somewhere’ with our family. I am going to try to keep this vague so as to protect anonymity. Namely mine. I happened to be walking away from the washroom when I came across a person from my past whom I have not been able to speak to nor face up to for years due to a history of hurt between that person and my immediate family. There is a history here that goes back far with turbulent waters that run deep. There have been wrongs done, words spoken, vengeance taken. On both sides of the fence, perhaps- depending on whom you talk to. And over the years, I have believed that I had released the burden of offense that this person (and the persons who stand with them) had brought me. But yet, I still lived in fear of facing this person. What would I say? What would that person do? How would I react? What if I started to crack up under the pressure?

The binding of this offense from years ago still has a choke-hold on me.

It is not that this person makes me feel angry. It is fear mostly that I feel. Fear of the unknown, fear of what could happen, fear of humiliation. Fear of facing this person. I am reminded of that verse which states that perfect love casts out fear. To be exact, the words of this verse say this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man (or woman) who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4: 18, NIV) I wonder- what if I practiced loving this person instead of channeling my energy into fearing them. What might transpire were that to happen?

I can tout myself as being a loving person but if I cannot love my enemies, the love I offer is shallow. Who wouldn’t find it easy to love those who treat us well, those who build us up, edify our character? It is easy to love when love feels good. So much harder to love when the price is our pride, our image. We shouldn’t love solely when it is easy- we must love when it is hard. For in loving, we are free. But this is hard work- it require discipline.

I have found in recent years a yearning in my soul to exemplify love in my life. This love is not my own- it is God’s love channelled through me. It is supernatural love of a divine nature. And because I feel the power and presence of love in my life, I am free to love others in the very same ways I too experience love. Unconditionally, liberally, wholly.

In thinking about the offence I have felt over the years, one of which I make mention of above, I am humbly reminded of the offences at times that I have caused. At times, unknowingly and at other times, purposefully. If I am in any way offended by those who have hurt me, how much more then are those whom I have hurt injured by my offence to them? In being human, we are prone to hurt one another by our very nature- one does not have to look far in the news to find evidence of this. We are a hurting people. We live in pain. The freedom from which comes through forgiveness.

I wonder how much of our pain would be eased if we could only take the initiative to bear the weight of any offence committed against us through arms of love. What a humbling exercise- accepting responsibility to start the reconciliation process even when we haven’t been the one who wronged. This is not to say we must accept responsibility for wrongs done which we have not committed- it is just to say that in love and through grace, we can make the first move. This is biblical principle. For we see through scriptures over and over again that love is the antidote to the pain which breeds fear. Not that love can eradicate pain- but it can help us cope with our response to pain. True, there will always be those in our lives that inflict on us the brutality of injustice- but it is the reaction to such that determines the load we end up carrying. My response to the offender is what determines the pain I carry in my shoulders, in my body. In my heart. The release is found in forgiveness.

We must let go and in love move forward.

Recently, a very special woman shared with me her decision to go to someone who had deeply hurt her and how she found grace to offer a hand in love to this person. Just today, I read of a woman whose former husband murdered her three baby boys before turning the gun on himself. And yet, this hurting woman found strength in time to forgive this man, thus releasing her own burden of despair. I think of a man in our own community who offered forgiveness to another during his own family’s darkest hour. And in my own life, I have found the greatest peace has come through laying down my own agenda and rights so as to walk in peace with another human being. So as to walk in peace with my God. I am daily reminded through these and other stories- that it is in releasing our fear, our pain and choosing love in spite of the tremendous odds that we find supernatural strength to forgive.

It is there in the peaceful still that we find quiet, humble grace.