Friday, 29 January 2016

What I Am Into - January 2016

What I Am Into :: January 2016

It's been a grey and rainy January, as January tends to be in this corner of our country. The first few days of 2016 were filled with extended family and belated Christmas celebrations and oh yes, plenty of turkey. Since then, we've been finding our rhythms and routines again, some old, some new, always shifting to fit the needs of the season. This season has been a quieter one, close to home - not quite the hibernation that December was, but slow and homey nonetheless. It's perfect right now, but I'm starting to feel that itch for spring and sunshine; oh, dreary approaching February, we will find joy in you somehow.

On My Nightstand:

I finally read Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, because I simply grew tired of seeing it recommended by everyone. It's certainly well-written but equally heart-rending. It might have been better at a time when I was feeling more emotionally prepared for it, rather than the dead of rainy winter in the post-holiday hibernation stage. Regardless, it lives up to all the recommendations.

I also read through most of Gaiman's Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances - again, simply because I saw it recommended so many times. Not sure this one lives up to its recommendations, but the writing is excellent, anyway. The stories are just a bit too random and strange for my taste.

I finished Rigg's Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, which was not as good as the first one, but still an engaging read and a satisfying conclusion to the story.

I'm currently well into Stephenson's Seveneves. Highly intriguing so far, although a very slight bit on the slow side. On the back burner is Gottman's Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which was excellent thus far but got set aside in favour of a library hold.

On the Screen:

The husband and I have been spending our evenings watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Make it so! Ah. Picard. I'm a little bummed that I have to sit through Deep Space Nine next, before we finally get to Janeway in Voyager. (Janeway was my childhood hero. My childhood crush was Sully from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I cannot decide whether those two choices are a bit...unusual for a child.)

In My Ears:

I haven't been playing a lot of music around the house lately, so really I've been listening exclusively to my 165-180 BPM playlist while I run. Creating that playlist was one of the best things I did for my running. It takes all the thinking out of it for me; I just run in time with the beat, and my pace stays steady and reasonable. My running pace has improved from 5:56 min/km at the start of January to 5:28 min/km at the end. Nothing fabulous, I know, but the steady personal improvement makes me happy. I'm currently running 5K three times each week.

What We're Learning:

We finished our history book (Hillyer's A Child's History of the World), much to the kids' disappointment. Our next one (Gombrich's A Little History of the World) arrived a few days later, but in the meantime they had been requesting re-reads of the chapters on their favourite people and events.

Kai asked why the moon looks different some nights, prompting an interesting exploration of that question. We made this model of earth's orbit around the sun and the moon's orbit around earth. We used this video and this comparative model to consider the actual scale of the sun/earth/moon. Then we talked about the phases of the moon, went into a dark room with a globe and a flashlight and a ball to get a better visual of it, and finished things off by making this interactive model of the phases of the moon.

Then they asked me to print off more of the orbit models and proceeded to make up their own planets and stars, each one with detailed (and usually quiet dangerous) characteristics. So many scraps of cut paper on the floor. So many.

Organizing My Days:

I am in love with my daily planner this year. I am using the Sacred Ordinary Days planner, a liturgical planner which satisfies my soul's need for rhythm. Each of the changes in the church season is accompanied by a guided reflection. The daily pages have space for three daily projects, journaling, the daily schedule, to-do list, daily office readings, and white space for whatever. It's beautiful. I love it. I use it as my personal planner, with journals and prayers and doodles and reflections and various personal things I want to track, as well as a basic daily outline of our schedule. It has become a lovely way to start and end each day.

What I'm Looking Forward to in February:

February starts off with a celebration of our ninth anniversary. Considering how healing the past year has been, this makes me smile. Lacking a babysitter (seriously, how do we still not have a babysitter?), we'll likely order some pizza for the kids, set them up with a movie in the living room, and enjoy a nice quiet dinner (sort of) on our own.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?

Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Monday, 25 January 2016

The only way to do it

Sometimes my kids don't want to do the things that they need to do.

Shocking, right? I know. I'm the only one with kids like this. They don't want to empty the dishwasher or tidy their toys or work on something challenging.

So out comes the Mom Voice and I tell them, every time: The only way to do it is to do it.

The only way to get that dishwasher emptied so you can go play is to empty it. The only way to get through that task that feels big and difficult and overwhelming is to get started. These are words to carry you through life, kids.

But this isn't really about my kids. Because for every time I remind them that the only way to do it is to do it, I have to remind myself of the same thing about a half dozen times.

The only way to get out of bed in the morning, self, is to get out of bed in the morning. The only way to run is to lace up those shoes and go run. When faced with a new client and five years of overdue taxes and no useful records, the only way to get through it is to do it. I can stare at it and dread it and whine all I like, but it's not going anywhere until I begin.

Goodness knows that as a perfectionist, procrastination is my constant temptation. If I can't do it perfectly right now, then it's best to just not bother at all, right? Put it off until I have the perfect combination of time, silence, skills, desire, space, mental clarity, everything - then, maybe, we'll talk.

Four kids and homeschooling and working from home and housekeeping and caring for my own self too, however, means that things never go well when I try to wait for the stars to perfectly align. I'm learning to be more creative with my time. I'm finding the things that work best for me: the preparations that make the biggest difference, the small pockets of time that can either be wasted or used, the disciplines and habits that bring a sense of peace and confidence and usefulness to our daily rhythms.

All those things help, yes - but ultimately, always, the only way to do it is to do it. So I sit down to my work and hear those words in my head and I begin. I put on a load of laundry. I take out the sewing machine. Turn on the oven. Pick up the broom. the book. the pen.

The only way to do it is to do it.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Light {One Word 2016}

Each year, in lieu of resolutions, I choose an idea to focus on for the next 12 months. The fluidity and holistic nature of this word fits my spirit better than one specific resolution. They flow one year to the next, Grace leading to Joy leading to Presence, Intention leading to Rhythm leading to Habit, the culmination of all of those Opening my life wide for what may come. Then, a hard year, a decision to simply Go Forward bravely, one step after another. The year following demanded that I Fearlessly rebuild and heal and live.

Now another new year has arrived, and my focus is shifting once again.

2010: Grace and Intention
2011: Joy and Rhythm
2012: Presence and Habit
2013: Open
2014: Go Forward
2015: Fearless
2016: Light

I don't know precisely how this focus on Light will play out this year - my word always ends up surprising me, applying itself in unexpectedly perfect ways - but I do have a general vision to guide me in the weeks ahead.

Live Light

I want to Live Light this year. I want there to be less stuff. Less clutter, less consuming, less purchasing. Less visual chaos creating inner chaos. Less demands on my time and attention, taking away from the better things that could be. Lighter schedules with plenty of margin. It's all beginning to feel like a burden, all this stuff to move around and tidy and sort and organize and care for; I will keep the useful and the beautiful, but so much of the rest needs to go.

Seek Light

Claiming the early hours of the day as my own has provided me with a renewed steady diet of God's Word, and I want to continue to Seek the Light there. His Word is freedom and comfort, guidance and wisdom, a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Building on that source of Light, I want to more intentionally Seek Light in my own spirit. I am easily burdened, heavy under the weight of the world's pain, frequently wrestling away despair and anxiety. I need to care for my soul - put on my own oxygen mask, if you will, that I may then be able to better love others.

Caring for my soul means loving my whole self, body, mind, and soul, continuing to prioritize the things that help me to feel strong and free and grateful for this gift. It means running, resting, sleeping, eating, all of it joyously and with gratitude. It means acknowledging my needs and meeting them as best I can where I am right now. It means pursuing both the creative and the intellectual. It means prayerfully releasing burdens and receiving hope, the only rescue from the temptation to despair.

Be Light

With a lighter life and a lighter spirit, I am better equipped to Be Light to others, to share blessings and kindness and love. For too long I have allowed my anxiety and perfectionism to bind me, afraid that my attempts at kindness will only end up being a burden, unwanted, insufficient, just not quite right. I wish to shed those restraints and offer what I can, however imperfect or small those offerings may be. In a world that can feel so dark, even a small Light is welcome.

I want especially to be Light here in this home. Words and acts of kindness, grace, and compassion are never needed anywhere more than in one's own home, kindling love and security, raising up more love and Light to go out into the world.

Live Light. Seek Light. Be Light.

Do you have a One Word this year? a resolution? a new goal or habit? I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Holiday heart-gazing

It's the third day of Christmas, but the main event is over. Our Advent candles are still sitting out, but we no longer gather around to light them each evening. Our tree is still up (the bottom third bare, thanks to a certain grabby toddler), waiting for Epiphany. The cardboard boxes have been taken to the recycling depot. The turkey has been eaten and the stock made and frozen, to my great satisfaction. I do believe it's time to indulge in a little holiday navel-gazing.

Actually, let's rephrase that. Forget navel-gazing. I've decided we'll call it heart-gazing from now on. Navel-gazing sounds so negative. Why is that? Self-reflection is great. It's easy to look at everyone and everything else and pass judgement, but change only happens when we look at ourselves. Get your growth game on, yo.

So there you have it. My positive spin on and justification for some indulgent navel-gazing. Let's make it a thing. Go ahead and use it yourself. You're welcome.

This past season of Advent and our current season of Christmas were both very good and very difficult. The holidays were beautifully intentional, just the way I want them to be. But then I would look up at this whole weary world and I just can't. How do you even pray, where do you even begin to help, to bring hope, or to bring change? I was there during Lent and I was still there this Advent: Thy Kingdom come, dear God, please. It was Advent in the truest sense, a begging hope, a desperate anticipation, a mourning for what is and longing for what will come, for Who will come.

But Advent isn't only for me and my wrestling between hope and despair. And so each day we would light the candles - one spot closer on our spiral wreath, the appropriate number of candles on our Advent wreath - and the kids would argue about whose turn it was to blow out the match, because jostling each other next to lit candles is always a good and wise idea. Then we would sit on the couch (where they would argue about who got to sit on which side of me, because I guess I look better from certain angles maybe?). We would read another name of Jesus, along with the appropriate passage, then move on to the day's reading from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. We would finish up our time together with a short responsive prayer (thank you to The Anglican Family Prayer Book for making it easy for us) and a weekly Advent hymn. Sibling arguments aside, it was a lovely time each day together, and, I believe, the very first time we have ever got through the entire Advent without losing steam before the end. It flowed well and fit nicely and was a good thing in our holidays.

Christmas was good too. Just us, it was quiet and peaceful and really quite perfect. The best decision I made was intentionally choosing ahead of time to put the camera away while we went about our day. It allowed me to be far more present than other years. No taking pictures of every gift as they unwrapped it, no worrying about blurry shots and missed opportunities and posed smiles and ugh, all of it, I was so glad to just say no to myself and do away with what is usually a stressful and ultimately pointless exercise. When do I ever go back and look at pictures of them unwrapping each gift? I took one quick shot of each of them after the gift unwrapping was done, and otherwise the day passed by blissfully undocumented but fully experienced.

Now comes the time of year when we review, consider what worked and what could be improved. My head's not wholly there yet though. We're busy preparing for "second Christmas" with family arriving this week, but I'll get around to it eventually.

Still, some things are readily apparent to me when I think back on the past months. This year was one of growth and change - as, perhaps, all years should be. I discovered that I could possibly become friendly with early mornings after all. I took up running. I confronted my anxiety for the first time. I sought healing.

Much of it was good, but there is always room for improvement - for healthier and stronger relationships, for more intentional choices, for better routines, for new habits. What do I want for this new year? Not a complete reinvention, but a slow and steady continual turning, growing. If last year was my year to be Fearless, what will be my focus for the next twelve months? I look forward to a time of quiet reflection in which to ask these things of myself and my God.

But first there are floors to be washed and dust bunnies to be defeated and then family to love and enjoy and with whom to celebrate the birth of the One Who would bring us freedom and a new commandment: Love.

To all of you from all of us: May your new year be filled with the greatest joy and deepest peace. Thank you for being here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

I wasn't...until I was.

I am an introvert, a night owl, a lover of calm and quiet with a desperate need to decompress after the children are in bed.

I am most definitely not a morning person. Never have been. Cheers to the night owls, those watchers and defenders of the dark hours!

And besides, there's all these reasons. The kids will just get up if I get up early. The baby won't let me get up early. I'm too tired after being up with the baby during the night. I need the extra sleep. I'm just not a morning person.

The lovely husband, though, has been getting up early for work, leaving the house in the dark to commute to a project on the other side of the city. I, meanwhile, was sleeping as late as the kids would let me and then feeling like I was scrambling for time the rest of the day. I was getting up to the noise of four young kids, the busyness of the day already begun, and the pressure of activities and to-dos that needed attending to promptly.

So I started getting up the husband, and here we are.

I start off each day in silence instead of chaos. I drink tea and eat breakfast instead of grabbing whatever I can find on our way out the door. I watch the sky go from dark to light as the moon moves across the sky. And I witness a new set of dark hours.

The same lady walks by slowly, twice, every morning. A man with a briefcase and a take-out cup of coffee soon follows, his long and confident strides bringing him into the neighbourhood but never back out, he must drive? I can't figure him out. A yellow school bus picks up more children on its way through. A lady in pajamas brings out her garbage and then goes for a slow walk around her yard or across the street, returning, curiously, with a stack of newspapers. Another pajama-clad lady walks by with her small white dog.

I read, pray, sit. I catch up on my favourite websites, check my work email, see what the day expects from me. Sip tea. Watch.

Ell wakes up first, followed by Min. The boys sleep in. They wake up to me instead of the other way around, and it is good.

I guess I've become a morning person.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

What being preached forgiveness never taught me about healing

Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.

How often have I heard this message, growing up in the Christian faith? Don't be angry - forgive! Let go of the past - forgive! Release your hurts - forgive! Whatever happened - forgive.

I wrestled with that message for years. What did it mean? What did it look like? How would I know when I had properly forgiven? I wrestled with it through one challenging situation after another, and I couldn't understand why it felt so insufficient. I was willing to forgive, so why did I still have all this anger and pain?

I was told, repeatedly and by countless people, that I just needed to forgive more fully. I was told by people who knew of my experiences and by people who knew nothing of my wounds but simply preached blanket forgiveness. From the pulpit, blog posts, casual conversations, Christian articles, it was a message that permeated my interactions with my faith. Forgive! Forgive, because it's the right thing to do. Forgive, that your own self may be freed from the past. Forgive, that you yourself may be forgiven. Forgive, and all will be well again.

Forgiveness was the beginning and the end, the first and final word, the totality of dealing with any offense or hurt.

It took more than a decade, consuming anxiety, and a desperate need for help for one person to finally whisper that word I'd never heard before: heal.

Not forgive - or at least, not only forgive - but heal.

Those experiences were traumas, the counselor said, and what you have been experiencing are the effects of those traumas. You need to heal those wounds. I can help you.

And she did.

First by working through those past traumas, then by developing skills to affect my thought patterns in the present, my anxiety went from a continuous roiling boil to a quiet simmer. Oh, it still boils up at times, but dealing with moments of tightly-wound anxiety is so indescribably more manageable than the never-ending vibration of panic right under my skin.

So why had not one single mention of forgiveness, in all these years, ever been accompanied by encouragement to seek healing?

It was as though, after being hit by a car, I was told to "let go" of my concussion. As though forgiving the driver of the car would make my broken arm a non-issue. As though the release of my anger was more important than seeking care for my injuries.

Trauma is a wound, an injury, that needs and deserves to be healed. The cause of the trauma is irrelevant; trauma is trauma, regardless. It doesn't matter if there are those who think it wasn't "that big of a deal". If it was traumatic for the person it happened to, then that trauma exists. It is real. It can be shoved down, ignored, denied, or leaked out in all sorts of unhealthy ways, but what it needs is healing.

But what about forgiveness?

Acknowledging the need for healing does not deny the importance of forgiveness. The challenge lies in all the ways forgiveness has been twisted into something it was never intended to be.

At its core, forgiveness is the pardoning of a debt. It is releasing our demand for repayment, for vengeance. Such debts of this nature can so rarely be "paid back" in any satisfying sort of way, anyway, and by releasing that demand, we free ourselves from endlessly seeking it as much as we free the other person from trying to repay it.

Far more relevant, however, is the list of things that forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness does not mean we no longer feel angry. Forgiveness does not mean we no longer hurt, often deeply. Forgiveness most certainly does not mean forgetting. It is not a slate wiped clean of all memory. It does not grant the offending party permission to re-victimize the one who forgave. It does not fail to seek justice where appropriate. It does not cover up, does not hide, does not cloak the situation in lies and secrecy. It does not deny protection for those who need it. It does not mean there are no consequences. It does not mean that a relationship will continue.

And yet each of those things were included in the messages of forgiveness that I so steadily received and continue to see today. My years of wrestling with what it meant to forgive happened because I was trying to make forgiveness do what it was never intended to do. If you still felt angry or hurt, you hadn't forgiven properly. If you still felt the need to report a crime, you hadn't forgiven enough. If you weren't willing to hush up and forget it all happened, you hadn't forgiven fully. Maybe you need to go pray some more.

But never? What happened to you was wrong. You need to seek healing for yourself. Here are some options. Let's get you some help.

Monday, 12 October 2015


I've been noticing lately. Watching, then catching myself watching, grinning, heart bursting with all that is good and right and beautiful.

I notice the intensely beautiful smell of the garam masala as I add it to my favourite butter chicken recipe. I savour my slow morning cup of coffee. I relax into those rare moments of quiet and stillness, feeling my breath and my heartbeat as the tension in my muscles begins to loosen. I watch one season pass into the next, exchanging the warm sun for the cool damp air. I watch these growing children of mine, the steady witnessing of their passing days and years.

I watch Jay rally those around him into a single activity. My shy and introverted self does not understand this mysterious ability, but I love to watch him organize pick-up games of soccer or tag or imagination with whatever kids are in the area.

I watch Kai play soccer, chasing after that ball with such single-minded purpose and joy. It's his first year and he grins the entire time. I watch as the joy builds until he can't contain it, until he starts spinning in circles right there on the field, just a few spins and then back to the ball.

Ell watches too, always watches - her brothers' soccer games, her brothers' gym time, her brothers' this that and always the other, and it's hard to still be little and not get to join. So I signed her up for swim lessons along with her brothers, and oh, such joy and pride! To be in the water, participating instead of watching, is the highlight of her week right now; it is a privilege to witness.

I watch Min as he explores his world and his family and his own growing self. My favourite times with him are our alone times, early in the morning when he first wakes up and again at the end of the day as he and I settle into the dark bedroom until he falls asleep. We coo and nuzzle and laugh until he hums himself to sleep, funny child. He wakes me up in the morning, arms reaching for me, then grabbing my face until I'm properly awake.

There is joy in watching each of them, but watching them together is joy multiplied. Jay is achingly tender with Min. Min listens hard for Ell, goes straight for her each morning and follows her around the house. Ell and Kai are my crazy middles, their interactions summed up thusly:

Kai: "This part is lava, and you have to jump over top of it!"
Ell: "But I can't jump that far!"
Kai: "Yes you can! Jump!"
Kai: "Oh...I guess you can't jump that far."

The husband has been working long hours, and we're all feeling it. The kids miss him and I miss him; he misses both us and rest. But he comes home and reads and wrestles and cuddles and plays, and few things are more heart-bursting than watching the five of them, one big wild mess of puppies.

There is joy, too, in the way he looks at me. These past two years have been filled with difficult work, but we have done the work (and continue to do the work; it's part of this life together, always, I imagine) and it has been hard but good and it is so much better than I knew it could be. I am so grateful, so breathlessly grateful, for this man who chose to do that hard work with me. It could have been so different.

I've been running. I cringe to even admit it, remembering all the times I could not roll my eyes hard enough upon reading that yet another person had begun a Couch to 5K, because oh my goodness, shut up about the running. Well, now I run (sorry not sorry), the end of my own C25K in site, hello week 6. I run because it is the one thing that keeps my anxiety fenced in, almost, mostly, enough that I don't feel the desire to crawl out of my skin or hide from this beautiful difficult life. The familiarity of running surprised me. It's been years since my teenage self ran - cross country and track and even a half marathon once, all those years ago. But still my body remembers, familiar rhythms, feet and legs and arms and breath, and it is a joy of the more strenuous sort.

I've been sewing, too. Next to this precious family of mine, creativity is the most life-giving thing that I do for myself. I finished Jay's bucket hat, at long last, after having put it on hold early this summer because the pattern ran smaller than I realized and it wasn't going to fit. He was so pleased when I finally got around to altering it and handed him his finished hat; I could learn much from his graciousness and patience with me. I'm nearly finished a new purse for myself, and I love it already. There has been an embroidered doll quilt for Ell and a small basket for my keys that I generally toss haphazardly on the table next to the door, and always more projects waiting. There is something intensely satisfying about producing something Beautiful and Useful with one's own hands.

In all this, there is presence and witness and gratitude. Be here. See what is here. Give thanks for what is here.

I am here. I see. Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.