What We Choose to Leave Out

Thirty-some years ago now, I lost my only first cousin on my mother’s side. He died in the hospital, left to await his burial in a emergency room sink- the decision of a hospital staff weighing the costs of rescuing his mother or saving him. They chose his mother, desperately trying to keep her alive as they worked on the injuries she sustained to her head. Those injuries, the result of a tragic car accident. I cannot even begin to process why there had to be a choice, for I am sure if this had happened today, both would have been saved. It has been the one question I have come back to time and time again over the years.

Why?

The baby’s name was Jesse. And when I think of him, I wonder what he would have looked like. What he would have been like had he lived. Wonder what it will be like to see him in Heaven someday.

One sweet day, wonder will become reality.

This past Christmas, some distant friends of friends (distant cousins of friends, I should really say) lost a beautiful baby girl. She died in-utero. Her given name was Zoe, which is of Greek origins meaning ‘life’. The mother and daddy were devastated, and as a testament to their daughter’s brief life, they decided to post on social media pictures of her wrapped up in the softest of pink blankets.  Their beautiful baby girl. Her little lips pressed like rosebuds between the page of a beautiful book, only one short chapter of her life written for this life. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the picture capturing her infantile innocence- such perfection. Such beauty in a tiny, perfectly formed baby.

And such devastating loss.

While I ached at the grief evident behind the scenes of this precious baby’s picture, I couldn’t help but wonder what decisions must have been weighed in choosing to share publicly with the world at large the thoughts and emotions these parents were experiencing, along with the very emotional pictures of their deceased daughter. I can’t even imagine what this was like. But I know that when I saw the pictures and read the words that this parenting duo wrote to accompany their daughter’s eulogy, I was extremely touched. It moved me to know what they were feeling, and I felt a response within me to care for them and their situation.

I have been thinking about life and how we document our day-to-day experiences. Thinking about how we often frame our lives so that we are perceived in certain ways when presenting the details of our stories to the larger world around us. I have been thinking about what we include in our stories, our life narratives. And I have also been reflecting on what details- what information, facts and particulars- we leave out in the process when it comes to the final product.

Within the field of qualitative research studies, there is a branch of research called auto-ethnography- research that situates the Self in a particular culture or setting. I happen to be currently pursuing this field of research for my M.Ed. thesis study. Within the very broad spectrum of what constitutes auto-ethnography, there are categories of narrative (story-telling), one of which is called writing-stories.  Essentially, these are narratives that one would write after the fact to explain the context of a story already written. Within this category of inquiry, there is a sub-genre of writing-stories called microprocess writing-stories, a genre of a narrative that concerns itself with the process of selecting what to include and what not to include when writing about oneself in the cultural backdrop that individual is situated. When invoking this form, what is studied is what happens ‘in process’- what we choose to include or not include- before final edits have been made. Revisions that have been decided via a momentary decision, hands hovering over the keys, perhaps ‘finger on the delete button’ are what this form is all about. It concerns itself with ‘behind the scenes’ looks at the decision writers make before they hit the literal or virtual send button.

Lately, I have been writing my own narratives with raw vulnerability. Trying to share as honestly as I can about who I am, where I am, what I am, why I am and how I am. Trying to not leave out any of the details that would explain me to you– even though that delete button looks so very safe much of the time. Being that I am not an island unto myself, this kind of writing can get tricky- especially as we are all social and relational beings prone to include details about how our lives intermingle with the significant others we love and care about.

This vulnerability-thing can complicate things when your story is also tied up in someone else’s story.

But in getting back to the issue of how we choose what to include or not include, it is very interesting to me that social media has given us the freedom to share our lives with one another in ways we never could have done in years past. Take Facebook, for instance. Just today, I was given a front-row seat into the experiential world of a dear friend as she shared very private details about a medical procedure she was undergoing. She not only included text, but she posted pictures as well- opening up her private world to the rest of us to view with no holds barred.

I am in absolute awe at her candour. For I consider this an act of truthfulness – to bare oneself to the public, not fashioning a self that has been contrived, but presenting the ‘real deal’ as who she is behind closed doors. This is honesty at its most vulnerable. Some would call this bravery- but I am more inclined to see it as unabashed sincerity. We do not see this kind of authenticity very often in terms of public interactions. We like to hide behind our façade so as to protect ourselves from injury or pain. We have very little trust that other people receiving the details of our story will handle us with care.

Not everyone can do this- live so openly. Nor should they. We all need to live with the decisions we make, and if we make decisions that end up with us feeling uncomfortable and uneasy, we know that those decision were not the right ones to make in the first place. But what I sometimes observe in people is a feeling of discomfort- an awkwardness that some people have, with others who decide to be honest about the details of their personal lives. This is apart from sharing about one’s own life- it is more about judgement calls we make concerning what other individual’s share about their lives. For there are certainly people who are uncomfortable about the whole issue of forthrightness and openness, people who do not agree with others making the very personal decision to be honest and open about who they are when using direct and public avenues of sharing such.  But on both sides of the coin, this is an individual decision to make and live by.  Again, we are all different in how we approach sharing life revelations.

But what can be difficult for the one doing the revealing, as that honesty requires a great deal of vulnerability, is criticism.  For the one on the sharing end, to deal with criticism for your efforts can be very disappointing and disillusioning.  Not to mention disheartening, as you have stepped out on a limb to reveal the very personal workings of your innermost being.

What this all comes down to is a decision: deciding that in sharing, there is a greater gain for the effort than there is in losing one or two people’s approval. One cannot possibly please all people, so the decisions made about what to share in public venues must therefore please the one sharing so as to be worth the effort.

I believe there are many benefits to gain from sharing one’s life in open, direct and forthright ways, as can be done in blogging formats or via social media, but I will highlight two here.  One is a personal benefit and the other a public one. Firstly, we benefit personally from sharing with others our stories because we open ourselves up to the possibility of caring, responsive relationship being enabled through the sharing process.  When we share, others often share back creating a responsive, relational circle of care.  When we feel cared for, we are able to share more, growing our hearts in the process.  This does not always work, but when it does, it is a beautiful thing.

And secondly, others benefit from our sharing by way of the fact that we start to chip away at the stereotypes that accompany secretive, hidden stories.  We take away the shame, the horror and the feelings of humiliation of carefully guarded stories by making the issue at hand accessible  No longer a secret, its power to reduce, discredit and disgrace is lessened.  We are no longer at the mercy of the secret- we have taken its sting away through our telling.  This serves to help others in that the feelings of awkwardness at ‘not knowing what to say’ quickly vanish.  You are allowed to now say because you have been given permission to do so.

We live our lives as a testament to the person we were created to be- not for the purpose of pleasing other people around us. What we choose to include or omit, choose to revise and edit- these are decisions for us to make as individuals. And if the benefit outweighs the loss (with no harm done), we know we have made the right decision. But more than this, when we make the decision to share our lives- the beautiful, the bad and the devastatingly brutal, we also allow others the opportunity to experience empathy and care as a result. Through sharing our stories with one another, we open ourselves up to responsive relationships that are founded in care.

What we include to say or not say, says a lot about who we are. And how we respond to others in their vulnerable moments also speaks volumes about who we are and what we believe. When we embrace one another and allow for understanding, we learn from each other. And we come to understand just a little bit more what it means to be truly human. What is means to be both dichotomies: vulnerable and fragile, brave and beautifully strong.

Underneath it all, we are all just people. Just people.  And when we share our stories, we grow in understanding of each other. Grow in love and empathy and compassion. For in sharing, we come to be more caring.

Care that grows each time we share.

The Dot- It’s What We Leave as a Legacy

She asked me tonight how the blog was doing. And I told her that it was not where I’d like it to be. After its second wind in early August and the contact I’d made with Arianna Huffington, I had been floating high on the hope that things would really fly. Really take off.  Just like they had twice before. So when she asked me tonight how things were going and my answer was a little lacklustre, I guess what I was really thinking was “Writing blogs is hard.  Writing blogs for people to read is hard. It’s too hard, sometimes.  Maybe I’ll never be the writer I want to be.”

Sometimes we just have to speak the words we really feel- not to embrace them.  But to release them.

A bit later on, I stumbled across a little electronic reminder that today is International Dot Day, in celebration of Peter Reynold’s book called The Dot. A book written in celebration of starting small and making one’s mark…one little dot at a time. One little word. One little sentence, one little phrase. One little blog article at a time. And when one starts small, they find that one thing leads to another.  One little blog piece leads to another little blog piece. To another and another. It’s kind of like putting one foot in front of the other.

You just don’t know where you’ll end up.

But you know where you’d like that destination to be.

I’ve always wanted to be an influencer. I’ve always wanted to make my mark on this world. Find my place in this world.  Be somebody.  But at the same time, I have thought to myself: “I don’t have everything all figured out yet…I don’t know everything there is to know about what I want to talk about.” So I found myself starting small. I first wrote vignettes about our life as a family. About my role as a mother, wife and woman.  And in time, I found healing in those words. Found healing in the process.  In the beginning, I wrote solely on the topic of joy.  For I was on a pursuit- a pursuit to find joy. And in letting myself lean into the pain, the sadness- and even the grief at times, I found the release I was searching for.  Found the healing. And I began to start over.

My dot has been this blog.

I want to thank everyone who reads this blog. Most of you have found me through “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” and for the success of that piece, I will forever be a jumbled mix of surprise and gratitude. For anyone who reads anything else you might find here, I offer a simple word of thanks. You have made the Dot I placed in this interweb of technology meaningful and worthwhile for me. My readers sustain me. You are the other half of this equation and I write as much for you as I do for myself.

In celebration of International Dot Day, I want to celebrate the dots we are placing on this world. Celebrate the work we do in our homes- as parents, children, siblings, cousins, friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents and guardians. And celebrate the service we offer up in our places of work- as employees, leaders, followers, doers, visionaries, role models, facilitators, mentors and steady, reliable workers. Paid and unpaid. In our communities, we must never forget to appreciate and recognize the countless volunteers, board members, trustees, committee reps, and more.  All making dots on our community landscape.  And in our world, as people who stand by one another and help one another through both the good and the bad.  Let us celebrate the dots we represent around the globe.

We are all making our mark. Let’s be proud of the dots we leave behind each day as a remembrance of our calling.  Our daily offering to this world of ourselves and our love.  And may we never undermine the importance of the dot our lives represent.

Each Dot is a beautiful mark of impact on this world that only we can make.

Best End of Summer Parent Ever

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I apologize to anyone who is still not on summer vacation.  As well as to anyone reading this who has returned to school.  I am Canadian and our summer vacation starts basically in July.  So forgive me for still holding on to summer until the bitter end.

The other morning, I had Youngest to the Doctor. When it came to the eye/ear exam, the good physician peered into my child’s unshowered/unbathed/unwashed ear and exclaimed: “Oh, good. She has two grains of sand in her ears. All children should have at least some sand in their ears in the summer.”

Huh. I had no idea.

And if that were not reason enough to love summer- c’mon, it is the one time of the year we are awarded brownie points at the doctor’s office for uncleanliness, my child’s pediatrician also had this to say about Daughter’s bruised/scabby legs: “I see someone has been playing outside a lot this summer.”

{Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.}

So I guess that’s a score for Your’s Truly. I might have a child that looks like a prisoner of war/child soldier, but it doesn’t even matter. It’s summer. And the dirty, wounded, scabbed look is all the rage during this optimum time of year.

I am sorry to say this, Dear Girlfriends of mine who are chomping at the bit for school to arrive.  I know you love the routine of September and its glorious, blissful seven-hour school days, but… it is still summer people. It might be August. The days might be longer. The weather changing. The wardrobe needing of a little warmish fall apparel.  The sun moving farther from our northerly parts. But it is still summer. And I will hold to that sentiment until 6:45 a.m. the morning I am scheduled to be back at work. I read Jen Hatmaker’s tribute to being the ‘worst end of summer parent’, and I confess: I am just not ready to get off this train. The caboose may be headed down a crash course to oblivion but I am holding on tight. I will ride it until the bitter end.

What’s not to love about summer, my dear people? The long days, the endless options, the sun. The SUN. I mean, seriously?!  Lest we forget the power outages due to record snowfall/ice storms back in far-away, far-off February/March, the snowsuits, winter boots, frozen car interiors and the like.  Let me remind you: THERE IS NO SNOW IN SUMMER. 

Hello. Best.reason.ever. (to love summer).

But that said, there are so many other reasons to love this fair time of year. Oh, let me count the ways:

1. It is the one time of year I can bar-b-q breakfast, lunch and supper. You think I am kidding. I am not. Well, maybe about breakfast, but that is only because we have a toaster.
2. My kids are tired, whiny, cranky, exhausted- you name it, but I am not even losing  (all of my) marbles. Because it’s summer- and I know that tomorrow there is the very good chance that they will sleep in. And maybe so will I.
3. I can get away with wearing a bathing suit as an outfit (as unpleasant an image as that might conjure up in some of your minds).
4. It is the one time of the year I survive on a steady intake of iced coffee, milkshakes and smoothies as my dairy supplement.
5. Camping. There are not enough words to describe my adoration for camping.  I absolutely adore campgrounds with pools, other peoples’ children (serving as a distraction for my own Four Dear Ones), sewer hook-up, water and electricity. I would sell all I own and take up waterfront residence at KOA Cornwall, PEI in a heartbeat (if it meant never needing to vacuum again).
6. Smores. Best supper alternative ever.
7. Flip-flops.  Slip on, slip off.  Ingenious.
8. Warm, balmy evening air- there are no words to describe this amazing natural wonder.  I love leaving the house in anything less than a parka.
9. Summer relaxation- is there anything like it? Is there anything quite like an evening sitting out by a campground with friends, watching the wood in the fire pit smoulder and burn?  Anything quite like an afternoon spent on the water?  Or a quiet morning whittled away on the porch swing? I should say not. You can take that pleasant memory with you to the cold, frigid days of late January and let it sit there and shiver.
10. Last but not least- water. Water in the summer is paradise. I love looking at it, touching it, drinking it, pouring it over my flowers, boating on it, swimming in it, canoeing over it, diving under it, splashing it on unsuspecting people. I can even tolerate small portions of time spent cleaning with it (particularly if I am at a campground- see #5) Water in summer is at it’s best. Throwing ice at people when the temperature is -26 with the windchill just doesn’t have the same effect.

Look, I understand. We are all burn-out right about now. My children cry over nothing. Nothing! If someone looks at them the wrong way there are noises emanating from them that could break the sound barrier. But I will put up with this minor inconvenience if it means summer will stay.

Keep your piece of mind- I will have my blissful slice of summer lovin’.

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.

Who We Are

It is hard to understand the whys and hows of human relationships. Sometimes these interactions astound and touch my deepest parts for their tremendous propensity to kindness. And yet sometimes they disappoint beyond what mere words can express.

Why are our connections with one another so prone to such wild swings of the pendulum?

For here we are, all just walking around inside our little outward shell, thin veneer- pretending to be brave when we don’t always feel brave. Pretending to be strong when we don’t always feel strong. Putting on our game face even when the game is over. Showing up even when we don’t have the strength to take another step. We are all, I believe, giving this ‘here and now’ our best shot- this moment, this day, this life. We are who we are- cover-ups, disguises, masks and all. Doing what we have to so as to keep our head above water, to stay afloat. And it’s a hard-knock life sometimes. Hard enough trying to get by without having another soul, another Body: push you over. Knock you down. Hard enough trying to be a person living through the day without having another soul, another Body step all over you. Rain on your parade.

Isn’t it high time we gave each other a chance?

Is it so hard to see ourselves, our weakness- as through viewing our brother’s face? So hard to see our own proclivity to sorrow by looking in our sister’s eye?

She orders a coffee and a chicken sandwich for her husband. And all the while, she is given the five-star treatment by the waitress on duty. No request denied, no favor spared. She is Chosen. Somehow, special. But when it comes to him- he who is different, suddenly the mood alters. The temperature drops or so it seems. He who is seen as ‘other’ is disdained, disparaged, despised. She wonders, as she waits for the remainder of her order: why? Why him? Why her? Why such vast discrepancy? Why is she singled out to receive the good and he left to suffer the mockery, the subtle abuse? Why such different treatment when the same blood that courses through her veins, pumps slow and steady through his also?

Are we that blind that we can no longer see each other for who we truly are?

And who are we anyway? Who were we made to be?

We were made to be His Beloved. Loved, cherished, held, treasured. Longed for by the Father and precious in His sight. And when He sees us, He sees the beauty in the workmanship, the exquisite detail in the masterpiece. He sees us for the value and worth and tremendous significance we were designed for.

Each one of us.

And He doesn’t judge us for the fading shell without, that holds us.  Piece by fragile piece.  That damaged armor we wear to protect, we put on so to endure.  Doesn’t judge us for our persona.  Our outward presentation- He just loves us.  Loves us for the lasting treasure we are within.

And because He loves us, we too can love. Wildly, unabashedly, freely- with abandon.

We are free to love each other.

We are Loved.

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.