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.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

In Praise of Quiet Time

I love my children. Being a mother is hard. Our days are precious to me. Our days are challenging. Both parts are true, the beauty and the intensity, but the one practice that helps to keep things in balance for me is our daily afternoon quiet time.

Our quiet time is a mini exhale, an oasis of calm in the midst of our usual noise and activity. It is blessed relief to my introverted soul. It is silence and stillness, just for a little while. It is rest for my mind and body and oh, my ears.

Right now there is only quiet. I can hear the hum of the refrigerator and the tapping of the keys as I write. Sometimes a car drives by. For the next hour or so, I will hear little else.

Our practice of quiet time began six years ago. Jay, who was two years old back then, had decided he was done with naps. Kai was an energy-sucking bundle of joy within me. I was tired. Jay might have been fine without his afternoon nap, but I sure needed one. And so it began.

A stack of books. Two cars. One blanket. We'd pile into my bed and for the next half hour, I was not to be spoken to. I would read (sometimes) or nap (usually), while Jay would drive his cars along the lines of my quilt or look through his stack of books. Occasionally he would fall asleep too, and the two of us would nap for as long as we pleased. It was a nice moment in our day. When it was over, I would drag my big Kai-filled belly out of bed and the day would continue. Back to housework and games, meal prep and strolls through the forest.

After Kai was born, quiet time became an on-again, off-again thing for the next couple of years. The off-again times always left me feeling a little more frazzled, a little less calm and collected. But I wasn't very good at consistency and routine, and so the off-again times happened anyway.

Until Ell. Oh, that pregnancy. Quiet time became less of a decision and more of a default-born-of-necessity; I wasn't so much functioning as merely getting through the day for a stretch there. We made it, though, and at some point that afternoon quiet time became part of our day, a simple fact. This is What We Do. And so we do it.

For the kids, quiet time is an opportunity for rest and quiet activity. It is also a chance for solitude, to enjoy (or learn to enjoy) their own company for a while. Jay will read, work on a project, or draw. Kai usually chooses a puzzle or a game. Ell is in that transitioning period; some days she naps, while other days she chooses a quiet activity of her own. And Min, bless his baby soul, consistently naps during this time.

For me, though, its purpose changes depending on the season. There have been seasons (particularly the growing-a-baby seasons) when it has been an opportunity for a nap of my own. Other seasons have given way to creativity, a chance to write or sew or knit. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I sit quietly with God, a tiny baby, or both. It is never a time for a housework, though. I might do a quick tidy of the main room simply because visual clutter feels like chaos to my brain, and five minutes of tidying makes my quiet time feel far more peaceful.

Right now, in this season, it is my work time. I plug in my headphones, turn on some music, and get lost in the world of numbers and accounting for as long as the baby sleeps. It might not be rest in the traditional sense, but it requires, at least, a different part of my brain that the usual negotiating of peace treaties between warring children, the cleaning up of various bodily fluids, and the other assorted duties that go along with raising children.

Whether it be for sleep, creativity, recreation, or work, these minutes have become an integral part of my day. They are given up only for the occasional full-day outing. What begun as a half-hour nap beside a squirmy two year old has become a guaranteed one hour, and often more, of solitary activity for each of us. As important as I believe it is for my kids, it is one of my own primary acts of self-care. I do the next needful thing and the next and the next and then this - a pause, a stillness - and then continue.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

How was my day?

It seems a straightforward enough question: How was your day? I find it a particularly difficult one, though. How do I explain how my day was when anxiety is such a frequent companion?

How do I tell you that I spent the day wrestling with the panicky flutters inside of me? How do I describe the moments when my mind got away from me, when I imagined in vivid detail one or another of my worst fears? How do I explain the amount of effort it took to wrest my mind back from the brink, to remind myself that this isn't real, this didn't happen, this has not happened and in all likelihood won't happen? How do I help you to make sense of the shivering that continued inside even after I'd returned to reality - it's not real, it's not real, but it felt so real and maybe it will happen, who can say?

When you ask how my day was, I don't know how tell you that reality was great - I got things done, I had fun with the kids, nothing went wrong, it was a good day - and yet it was also a terrible day where awful things happened in my imagination and I felt sick and shaky and fluttery. I know it sounds ridiculous because it didn't happen, but it felt like it did.

Other times, there is no specific fear. There is only an empty, floaty, swoopy feeling in my stomach, a tightness in my throat, a feeling like I can't draw in enough air. There's a hum, a vibration, under my skin. I mean, sure, I cleaned like a mad woman this morning, look how productive I was! - but only because I was buzzing with adrenaline, jittery with the blossoming anxiety, feeling it in my veins and my stomach and my shoulders.

I despise few things more than wasting a good day in imaginary fear.

This is, after all, my year to be fearless. Less worry, more life. And it has been, in its own way - in my own way. I'm speaking my anxieties out loud with those who have earned the right to hear them, and that is a fearlessness in itself. I'm noticing it and naming it, looking it in the face in a way I haven't always done. There you are, Fear. That's what you look like in my life, Anxiety. I see you for what you truly are, Worry.

This is just where I am right now. I'm in the wrestling days. I'm not here with advice or solutions or answers. I take some supplements, I talk myself down from the edge, I pray, I do what I can. I practice intentional self-care and gratitude. Exercise and sunshine help. Lists help, if only to keep myself focused, to prevent myself from either indulging the anxiety or zoning out in front of a trivial distraction in an attempt to avoid it.

Some days are worse and some days are better, and overall I hope that I'm moving in a forward direction. Right now that's as much as I hope for: progress, a little bit of progress each month. Some new insight. A few less days with those panicky feelings beating inside. A few more fears spoken aloud, freed, let go. Fewer sleepless nights, mind flitting from one place to another. Something.

Anyway. How was my day? Good and panicky and productive and scary and beautiful and hard. I guess that about covers it.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Have a Guilt-Free Summer

It's that time again - summer listicles galore. Must do's and bucket lists and you-only-have-18-summers-so-make-them-count reminders. Good things, to be sure, but only when they nurture and encourage us. Too often, though, they feel more overwhelming than anything else, just another burden, extra pressure, another helping of guilt, one more way we're not Living Up to the image of the parents we should be.

Breathe. And breathe again.

What do our kids need this summer? Room. Room to play, explore, run, wrestle, dig, splash, roll, and cuddle. Room to follow their own passions and curiosities. Room to make little mistakes, now, and to learn from them before the stakes are much higher. Room to be bored, and room to push through that boredom on their own. Room to figure some things out. And then some more room to process it all, to rest, and to be inwardly quiet for a while.

This summer isn't a checklist, get it all done or you've failed. This summer won't make or break your children's future. It's three months out of the 216+ months that they'll spend in your care, being nurtured and guided toward the day when they set out on their own.

It's lovely to get out to the beach, to wander rambling forest trails, or to have a picnic at the park. It's equally lovely to send the kids outside to play with water and dirt in the backyard, to ride their bikes up and down the block, or to read in the shade with an apple and a glass of water. A week at camp or a family vacation can be great memories; a week spent wandering in and out through an open back door, grabbing snacks while attempting to dig a hole to the center of the earth in the backyard, can an equally great way to fill a child with a sense of comfort, confidence, and peace.

Short story? It doesn't have to be momentous to be good.

So take the lists for what they are: ideas from which to select a few, tuck them away for a summer day that presents itself open and free and in need of an inspiring prod. Spend your days in whatever way best nourishes you and your family. Leave room for slow, lazy, and wide open; there's no pressure to cram in every opportunity summer offers. And if the end of summer arrives and you have yet to make popsicles, sleep in the backyard, or catch fireflies, it's okay. Love your summer for what it was; don't feel guilt over what it wasn't.

What has your summer looked like so far?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Year-Round Homeschooling: Why and how it works for us

Summer has arrived in all its heat-soaked glory. We're enjoying the usual summer traditions - berries and watermelon, garden-fresh vegetables rinsed off under the garden hose, sidewalk chalk and bubbles, ice cream and popsicles.

While the parks and grocery stores are busier than we're used to, filled as they are with kids on summer break, I find that claiming the same for us doesn't quite ring true. I do take advantage of late summer to re-evaluate where we are and where we're heading, but there's no official start-and-stop to our homeschooling year. It just continues on, weaving its way through our ever-changing lives.

How dreary that sounds! No break, no year-end celebrations, no first day back? For us, though, it works.

Our homeschool journey is ever-changing, shifting to fit our life and our children. There's an ebb and a flow to it, sometimes a focus here, other times a focus there, sometimes more formal and sometimes less. Sometimes it looks like math and reading and writing, every day. Sometimes it looks like spending hours outside. Sometimes it's weekly science experiments. Sometimes it's maps spread over our laps, history while we each lunch, read-alouds about other people and places and times. Sometimes it's new babies and all the science that brings - not to mention all the love and cuddles. But what it always is is ours. It's what we need, what we love, and what makes sense in our life.

What hasn't yet made sense for us, though, is taking a summer break from our learning. Our educational leanings are whole-life based, a learning that is part of what we do and who we are. Our goal is to nurture that holistic education, in part by preventing, as much as possible, a separation between "school time" and the rest of our daily lives. To disentangle those homeschooling strings from the rest of our everyday life would feel unnatural.

Our unschoolish bent means that we are ever following what fits with our lives and interests at that moment. Summer might mean less math and more nature study, but it's all learning. It might mean fewer days of dictation and more days of listening to history in a shady spot outside. Yesterday it meant picking wild blueberries, then coming home and turning them into a berry crisp before playing a few rounds of Crazy Eights. Our days have a familiar in-and-out rhythm, but the details within that rhythm are rarely the same.

Sometimes I wonder if our education should look more "traditional", but it always comes back to that time thing, still, now, four years later. It proves itself to be true over and over: Learning just happens as we go about our daily lives. I notice an area that could use some work, I start to worry, I begin planning a formal lesson, and then - they learn it. Without me and my lesson. They learn in their own good time and their own good way, and only my own unsubstantiated worries try to convince me otherwise.

But this is now. Always we are watching, considering, evaluating: What needs to change? What do our children need at this moment? What still works, and what no longer does? Perhaps the summer will come when we put away our books and declare ourselves officially, properly, on Summer Break. For now, though, it's just another ebb, another season in our lives - with traditions and rhythms all its own, yes, but with that ever-present homeschooling thread, too.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Inspiring Dinnertime Conversation

"No books at the dinner table" is easily Jay's least favourite rule in our home. Being lovers of books ourselves, the husband and I sympathize with his plight, but that's the rules, sorry Love. Dinner time is for talking, not reading.

Every evening we gather at the table, marked as it is with scratches and burns and glitter and paint. We hold hands as we offer our thanks. Water is poured, food is passed around, pieces are cut for those who need it. There's noise and a few moments of chaos and then everyone settles in to their dinner (save for the occasional "I'm not eating THIS" holdout).

And then our dinner conversation begins.

"What did you learn today?"

It's a simple question, but the discussions it has created since its introduction a few months ago have been nothing short of fascinating. Jay likes to share a random "weird but true" piece of trivia with us. Kai usually insists he didn't learn a thing, but a bit of prompting often coaxes a tidbit out of him - a new word he sounded out on his own, a fact picked up in an earlier conversation, a new game he learned, a unique Lego creation from the day's play. Ell "didn't yearn nuffink today," but she's happy to chatter away just the same.

Then it's our turn. The husband has often read about a new scientific discovery to share with us, and I round things up with something from my own day's reading - a new-to-me nature factoid, a social justice campaign, a young entrepreneur, a bit of world news, a new skill I've been working on, whatever inspires me when the question comes 'round my way.

Sometimes we each share our little bit of learning and the conversation moves on. Usually, though, we find ourselves exploring one of the introduced topics at a deeper level, or branching off into related discussions - from science to math to etymology to social awareness, wherever the kids' questions (and our own) lead us. What started as a deliberate way to stimulate conversation, share information, and keep all interested parties appraised of the kids' homeschooling situation (not to mention take some of the sting out of Jay's book prohibition at the dinner table), has become one of our prime opportunities to learn and ask and rabbit trail to our hearts' content.

Last night's conversation began with the automated cameras recording Serengeti life. But what is an aardwolf? or a zorilla? How big are they? How big are they when they're born? What does "aard" mean? What does "aardvark" mean? How many ants does it eat in a day? How many seconds are there in a week? So how many ants is that per second? And so it goes.

The question itself was chosen not for its informative opportunities, though, but rather for its encouragement to always keep learning. Listen, Daddy learned something new today. So did Mommy. And you? What did you learn? What do you have to contribute to our conversation? We all have something to share. Learning isn't limited, isn't top-down, isn't separate from our daily lives. It isn't dull and boring and forced, something to suffer through until free time can begin again. It has no beginning and no end. It is part of what makes us human.

It has been good, this question, a lovely addition to our frequent bedtime conversations, which hold familiar questions of their own. Keep the conversation going, keep quietly pointing them to all that is good and worthy, keep listening and learning and hearing as they tell you, piece by piece, who they are.

Do you have a regular topic or question that you use to inspire dinnertime conversation?