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.

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?

Thursday 30 April 2015

What I Am Into - April 2015

What I Am Into :: April 2015

April was an adjusting month for us. Our daily rhythms were evaluated, dusted off, and given a bit of new life as I entered a new season - or, perhaps, reached back for something from an older season. My accounting career has sat quietly to the side as our family has grown over the years, and for us, that was perfect. April, however, brought about a new opportunity, and we decided that the time was right to open that door again. I'm working part-time hours in my field, and thanks to the wonders of technology, I get to do it entirely from home. So my mornings are earlier and my afternoon quiet time has morphed into work time and sometimes I slip away for an hour in the evening or on the weekend; it's ideal for me as a homeschooling stay-at-home parent, and I'm relieved that it's been a smooth transition so far.

On My Nightstand:

It did indeed take me a while, but I finished Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell early this year. Such an incredible piece of literature. Easily the best written book I have read in a very long time.

I finally read through Lois Lowry's worthy Giver Quartet. Although I was startled by the sudden ending of the first book, everything was nicely tied up throughout the rest of the books. The final one, Son, was my favourite, but all of them were absorbing and compelling reads.

Speaking of finally getting around to reading, I started Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time Quintet. I quite liked the first three books, but the fourth one is sitting half-read on my nightstand and I'm not particularly fussed about ever finishing it. Truth be told, I rather strongly dislike it. I know, that's barely even allowed, given the L'Engle love from basically everyone who has ever written anything ever. Please don't throw too many stones.

I bought Randall Munroe's What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions for the husband's Christmas present, and then promptly read through it myself as soon as he was done with it. Highly entertaining and interesting content.

I enjoyed Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train, as well as Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies and The Husband's Secret. I read both Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City straight through. Hello, 3am. Worth it. The accompanying photos are fascinating.

I've just started Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, and I'm utterly absorbed in it already.

Currently on the back burner are George Eliot's Middlemarch and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.

On the Screen:

Not much, actually. I did watch Gone Girl, which was, incredibly, nearly as good as the book. I absolutely loved The Imitation Game. The Theory of Everything was both fascinating and disappointing; it was rather a depressing love story in the end.

In My Ears:

I have discovered that, for reasons entirely unknown to me, P!nk is absolutely perfect to listen to while I'm working. Put in the earphones, turn on the music, dim the various home sounds around me, and get a good hour of work done while P!nk does her musical thing. Love her.

In My Kitchen:

I've rediscovered the pleasure of yeast breads rising in my kitchen. Actually, that's a lie. They actually rise on top of my husband's computer, which is old and runs hot and rises bread just beautifully. I'm only a tiny bit devastated that he has a new computer on the way, after all these years - exciting for him, very very sad for my breads.

Anyway, my particular favourites recently include French bread, bread sticks, and rosemary olive oil bread.

In My Memories:

Jay ran a 10K marathon with his dad earlier this month. It was so neat to watch the two of them training and then running the race together. It's especially beautiful to have entered this stage where Jay's going to remember this sort of thing forever. While we love watching the little kids enjoy their experiences, knowing that it's contributing to a general sense of security and well-being and so on and so forth, there's just a little extra joy in knowing that some of the things we do will become actual real for-life memories now that our boys are getting older. I love that.

What I'm Looking Forward to in May:

You know, I'm simply looking forward to a quiet continuation of our new daily rhythms. This May holds no particular events and our calendar looks fresh and open and ready for as much sunshine as the weather has to offer.

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

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

Sunday 5 April 2015

Ridiculous Hope

It's Easter Sunday and we're celebrating resurrection, life and light, victory and joy and hope. He Is Risen!

In the face of my heaviness, the sheer ridiculousness of this hope has never been more apparent. Look at us! Hope? Where?

Hope when we are steadily finding new ways to capitalize on brokenness? Hope in the face of greed that drives us to further and further depths? Hope when we pervert everything that is beautiful and good in this world? Hope in the midst of war and oppression and exploitation? It's ridiculous. Foolishness.

And yet we hope anyway. We trust not in our own selves but in the One Who has already declared victory over the darkness. He has come, He is coming, and He will come again. Alleluia!

Today we remember with the ease and comfort offered through the familiar Easter celebrations, but some days we forget. This is why we have been blessed with one another, this messy imperfect Bride of Christ, brought together that we may remind each other that hope and light and love exist.

This need echoes in my mind often these days. We have been learning to share our stories of heartache, pain, loss, unmet needs, failures, abuse - and it is Good. It is good to share, to understand, to heal. But oh, such stories. Such a steady stream of deep stories.

We need hope, too. Not instead of our stories of brokenness, but as well as. Both. Share our deep pain, always, yes, take away its power and receive comfort and bring more moments of me too so that less of us hide in shame. But the other stories, too, stories of joy and hope and beauty and compassion, stories filed with good and love and kindness - we need them. Let us not forget to tell them.

Let us show each other that this world also holds the good and holy things that we need and long for. Remind us of that ridiculous Hope we cling to, the one that says all is not lost, that darkness has already been defeated, that evil does not win and unity will one day be our song and our reality.

Proclaim your stories of hope, and in doing so buoy one another up. Hold on to that ridiculous hope, rejoicing in it not only today, but every day. He Is Risen!

Friday 3 April 2015


I feel heavy these days, heavy under the weight of the world's pain. I watch as despair curls and licks and winds its way near me, looking for a way to settle in. It's filled with lies, I know, the precise opposite of the hope that we know we have, but it's tempting to let it in all the same.

Money, sex, power, that trifecta of human apathy. Every day we hear more of the many ways in which we value a gained dollar, a passing moment of pleasure, a bit of control, over the person next to us or across the world from us. Of what concern is the good of our neighbour, wherever in the world that neighbour might live, in the face of selfishness and comfort and what's in it for me? There is such unimaginable horror in the things we do to each other, to all of creation.

Too often we look at one another and fail to see a created soul, loved and valued and of great worth. How many new ways will we find to objectify and oppress, to exploit and pervert, to treat people as commodities and opportunities? Money, sex, power, in endless permutations, big and small, and the small all the more insidious for their seeming unimportance. Endless, endless.

And here we are, remembering the death of the One Who was to free us from all this sin and death and darkness. Die to defeat death, to conquer sin, to pave the way for our salvation, to lay down His life in showing us what Love looks like in action, all the varied and familiar ways we talk about what was done and why and yet - and yet. And yet today I struggle to see it. He has overcome darkness but I see little else.

This is why the world needs every reason it can find for celebration, for joy, for expressions of love. Let us see that there is good, too, and beauty and love and compassion and togetherness and all the things we need and long for. This is why we write down gratitude, why we seek opportunities for joy and celebration, why we shine light and be light and bear witness to light. This is why we push back the darkness again and again and again, reminding ourselves of our own selves, because we are not immune to the things that bring us to tears when we see them in others. This is why we try to do a little good each day, wherever we are, in whatever way we can.

But today I simply feel heavy with the weight of all that breaks our hearts in this world - and perhaps that's as it should be on a Good Friday. Shed tears for the evil, the horror, the brokenness, and the apathy. Light candles and repent and wait, wait, let despair wash over only for a moment and then remember hope as Sunday dawns.

Such is the already-and-not-yet of God's Kingdom Come.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

What babies do

I was tough, once upon a time. I was tough and untouchable and unreachable and unabashedly proud of it. Just try to make me cry. Just try to make me reveal the deeper parts of me. Just try to make me share myself, my thoughts, my fears, my dreams. Just try.

Sometimes I wondered what was wrong with me. I didn't cry at deaths or funerals or marriages or births or any of those other tear-worthy events. I still don't. Four times now I've birthed my own flesh and blood and still not shed a tear; am I broken?

But then I look at my babies, later, I mean, when it's just the two of us and everything is perfectly ordinary. I look at them and my heart swells and I cry, I do. I tear right up at the sheer perfection that is this child. I really and truly get to raise this tiny human? Really? It's baffling and beautiful and terrifying and wonderful and yes, I cry. Now I cry.

Maybe this is what babies do: They make us soft. Soft around the middle, soft in our hearts, those hearts we now watch walking around in the world.

(Maybe they even make us a bit soft in the head. There was a time when I loved a good intellectual debate; now, though, I find less interest in reasoning someone under the table. Perhaps it's because I spend all day with argumentative children. I'm simply all argued out. Let's just hang out and not debate the timing of chore-doing or the merits of sharing or the importance of whatever life skill is currently lacking. Yes?)

My great-grandmother was fond of reminding others that it's those who are closest to us who hurt us the most. She said it bitterly, though, and that bitterness was passed down to her daughter and then to her grand-daughter, my mother, who repeated it often to me as I disappointed her time and again.

I want to be the woman who takes the bitterness out of that adage. Yes, those who are closest to us will hurt us the most. But it not because of them - it's because of us. It's not because they treat our feelings carelessly or take us for granted. It's because we care so much more. We love and fear and worry and protect and care. It is our own love that wounds us. And oh, there are mama-aches innumerable as they grow.

These babies of ours make us soft, vulnerable. But it's a softness born of love; it's an ache as their humanity collides with our hearts; it's the madness of seeing both perfection and weakness, both indescribable beauty and utter chaos, in the same small person. It's rediscovering our own weaknesses through the eyes of a child. It's a refining, to be sure.

Yes, I'm softer now.

It's what babies do.

Monday 23 March 2015

The Little People: An Introduction

For most of my time in this space, I have referred to my nameless children by their growing titles: the boy, the preschooler, the toddler, baby girl, baby boy, whatever was appropriate at the time. These descriptions, useful but ever-changing, have become increasingly more difficult as time passes.

The olders are mentioned here less often, their individual lives and stories being left alone for them to tell on their own someday, at a time and to an audience of their choosing. I still like to chat about them, though, just those innocuous everyday comings and goings that make up the pattern of our lives. The babies, of course, are fairer game, being rather universal in their coos and cries and naps. Either way, still small or growing older, how much simpler to just refer to them by name!

To that end, I'd like to properly introduce you to my little people, with nicknames and ages and oh so very big personalities:

This is Jay. He's coming up on eight years old, and like countless mothers before me, I can scarcely believe it. Sometimes I catch myself staring at him, just staring, marveling at how old (and yet still so young) he looks. He has a delicious sprinkling of freckles across his nose; he pretends to hate them but grins all the same as I try to kiss each one. Then he wipes my kisses off, because gross, Mom, but that's okay, there are more where those came from and I can't get enough of his laughter. He is my mini-me, my childhood self reincarnated, which is beautiful and hard and lovely and challenging and more than a little frightening. He is, in a word, amazing, and I am endlessly in awe of the person he is growing into. He loves late night snuggles, a chance to talk about his day and ask his big questions long after the other kids have fallen asleep. His interests vary from math to soccer to science to drawing to reading to comics to Mario Kart. He cheers for any sports team but the one his dad cheers for, and he is full of mischief and love and thoughtfulness.

This is Kai. Oh, my wild five year old, endless bounding energy and passion and extremes. He's everything his brother wasn't - the lover of potty humour, weapons, wrestling, and all that is loud and crazy. He will protest chores like it's the end of the world, no, I'm not going to do that, I won't, a steady stream of refusal right up until the job is finished. Then off he goes, cheerful as ever, and I just smile and shake my head at his ability to dig his heals in even as he does the task at hand. He's never felt a need to do anything at less than full volume and throttle. He's a determined skater, his Canadian-boy dreams filled with the hope of becoming a hockey player someday. He is my incredible storyteller: Kai has an entire imaginary village in his head, and we are often regaled with tales of "his people" as we sit around the dinner table. The inner workings of his body, too, are a story unto themselves, from the "reflections" that his eyes shoot out to the armour-covered white blood cells that not only destroy germs but also build themselves little houses. Kai's stories are as much a part of him as his arms and legs.

This is Ell. She is my delightful baby girl, as much as her two-and-a-half years will still allow me to call her that. She is every bit as passionate and unbounded as the one before her, loud and silly and wild and crazy and passionate and joyful. Her steady narration is the background music of my day: "What you doing, Mommy? Oh, you cooking? What you cooking? Oh, you cooking oatmeal? I yike oatmeal. We have boo-berries? Oh, we do have boo-berries? I yike boo-berries. Oh! Baby wake up! He wake up by hisself! I not wake him up! HEY BABY! I YUV YOU, BABY! You wake up!" If her brothers are doing it, she wants to do it, always right there in the middle of everything. She thanks me enthusiastically every time I do the laundry, which is often, given the amount of laundry around here. She takes great delight in combing her daddy's hair: "Turn head, Daddy. Now down. Now up. Now udder side." This one likes her routines, a nice predictable pattern in which to snuggle safely. She's my little thumb-sucker, hair-twirler, and lover of all that is Hello Kitty.

This is Min. Oh, my Min. He's been melting our hearts for half a year already. He likes to chew on fingers and pull on his sister's hair, much to her indignation. He is the sort of happy that cannot be described, just endless smiles and cuddles and laughter and contentment. I could happily spend my days nomming his neck or blowing raspberries on his belly or letting him grab my face as I growl at him. I was pretty chill with my babies - friends and strangers alike have always commented on that, you're just so calm! - but this one? This fourth sweet baby? He's the one who released those last niggling worries, foolishness about holding babies too much or forming bad habits or spoiling them or other such ridiculous nonsense. No, this one is my joy-baby, my snuggle-baby, my don't-worry-about-a-thing-baby, my soak-him-up-baby, because every cliché about how fast they grow is true. They are all so very very true. Babies are made for days like these, slow days of cuddles and laughter and entirely devoid of worry. It all works out in the end.

Introductions finally accomplished and story-telling made a little simpler, I hope to return to a more steady pace in this little space of mine. Thank you for being here.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

What I want to give up for Lent

Lent has arrived and there is much I want to give up.

I want to give up my worries, all of them. Always worry has been my steady companion and tormentor. There have been too many sleepless nights, too many what ifs, too many knots twisting stomach and shoulders and relationships because worry, worry. Because of these anxieties, I have seen things that do not exist, believed things about others that are untrue, and heard words that were never said - demons, all of them, that worry has given life to. I have not trusted you, Lord, in the small things or the significant things; forgive me.

I want to give up my apathy. Too often I am content with the bread and circuses society offers, and in doing so I turn my eyes and heart and hands away from that which should fully capture them. I line my thighs with excess calories while others go hungry. I buy things I do not need. I scoff at the idiocy of a culture that would discuss at length the appropriateness of wearing yoga pants while giving no thought at all to the working conditions of those who make their clothes in the first place, and yet in so many ways, I am no different. I can be equally unconcerned, equally unbroken, over the things that deeply matter rather than the frivolous things that raise my blood pressure and occupy my thoughts. Forgive me, Lord, for my apathy.

I want to give up my perfectionism, that drive that says if you can't do it just so and all the way, then why bother doing it at all? This perfectionism has kept me from carrying out in body what my heart desires. It has heaped shame on those I love. It has made me a poor friend. It has limited my desire to live a full and creative life. I want to do not for approval, but for Love's sake alone. Forgive me, Lord, for the control I have allowed perfectionism to have and all that I have allowed it to rob from my life and my relationships.

I want to give up my hurry. Always rushing about, quick, we'll be late, come on, let's go, I want to get home, pay attention, this needs to get done, I'm busy, I have other things that need attending, quick quick hurry hurry now. I want to be less inconvenienced by the minor nothings that cause me to sigh or rant my impatience, those moments of spilled cereal or late-night needs or other such grand-scheme-of-things trivialities. I want to be slow, calm, more willing to see joy than to rush through the moment's task. I have missed much in my busyness; forgive me, Lord.

If only it were possible to turn these things off, the way I turned off my computer in past years. Remove them from the house like foods we've given up before. Put them in a drawer and leave them there while these forty days pass by.

If only.

But these things are woven among the better parts of me, not easily separated and set aside. They are my continually-working-out areas, long and slow processes as the One who created me untwists the broken parts inside, burns away the impurities and brings me ever closer to my true and whole self.

I'll quietly choose something different this year, something separate and concrete - but if I could, I'd give up all of the above instead.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Whoever said the days are long?

Whoever said the days are long?

(Oh yes, I did, once or twice or probably a lot.)

They don't feel long anymore. These days I'm holding on tight, and when I'm not holding on, I'm reaching to catch up. Where do the hours go?

Every day the baby looks older, the toddler jabbers on more clearly, the little boy learns more, and the bigger boy asks more. We moved the boys into bunk beds this weekend, and my (oft-neglected) craft room has been turned into a bedroom for baby girl. We're back down to just three in our bedroom now, the smallest baby and the husband and I, and I already miss hearing her light snores. But now she's in big-girl underwear and a big-girl bed in her own big-girl room and I guess it's time I stopped calling her baby girl?

No. She's still my baby. They all are.

I know why the days are slipping away like this. It's because of this death grip I have on them. Wait. Slow down. I need more time. I need more moments. I need more memories. It's all going by too quickly. I'm missing it, mourning its passing, even as it happens.

Relax. I tell myself again and again but I can't seem to let go of that frantic feeling. They're growing up and I make too many mistakes and I'm tired and there's so much to do and even more that I want to do and so much I never get around to and I need to get off this hamster wheel.

I know what I need to do. I know it demands surrender instead of control, calm rather than panic, intention rather that reaction - oh yes, and probably an earlier bedtime, as sad as that makes my introverted self.

I know what I need because there are moments when I feel it, moments when I actually get it right. It happens when I watch the baby fall asleep, when I say yes to a request for a bedtime snuggle, when I get outside and breathe the crisp air, when I run or laugh or look someone in the eye, when I turn off the light on another day and feel satisfied...

...when I celebrate this moment instead of grieving its passing.

This is my daily practice, today and tomorrow and the day after that, every day, trying again and again to enjoy the passing hours instead of clutching them in my fist in an attempt to hoard what will inevitably pass by.

Relax, laugh, celebrate, and enjoy.

Monday 19 January 2015

Be A Good Recipient

"No, really, let me. I don't mind. It's no trouble at all. I'll take care of it."

I was brushing off yet another offer. It's what I do. Blame my Canadian nature or my shy personality or my reluctance to cause anyone the least bit of inconvenience in my behalf - whatever the cause, I am much better at turning down an offer than I am at accepting one.

This time, though, I wasn't going to get away with it quite so easily.

"Cynthia, I want to do this for you. I want to serve you in this way. I want to bless you. Please. Now be a good recipient."

Be a good recipient. If there's one thing I'm not, it's that. No really, I'm fine, it's okay, don't worry about it. I can handle it. Don't go to any bother on my behalf. How many times have I answered this way, brushing off one offer or another in my determination not to...what? Not to inconvenience anyone? Not to act as though I am worthy of what is being offered to me? Or is it really disguised pride, a reluctance to appear in need of anything, always the giver rather than the receiver?

But with those words - "be a good recipient" - I heard the heart behind them and I relented. I accepted the offer. I let go of my worry and relaxed. And it was Good. It truly was a blessing.

I needed those words to remind me that by declining every offer, I deny others the opportunity to bless and serve in the way they feel best willing and able. They are offering me this blessing, this act of love, and I am refusing it. I doubt the sincerity of their offer and thereby call them liars. I doubt my worth in receiving such a gift and thereby prevent others from showing their love for me. We both miss out.

I've been trying to say yes more often since hearing those words. I've been trying to be a good recipient. So far, perhaps to no one's surprise but my own, it has been a beautiful thing.

Maybe you need such a reminder as well? Allow others to bless you, to serve you, to be a help or a comfort to you. Accept the love that is being offered to you. Be a good recipient.

Thursday 8 January 2015

New year, old me

I love the feel of the new year's blank slate as much as the next person. New words, new goals, new hopes and plans, it's just all so shiny and new.

I used to plunge into the new year certain that my mere resolve would make me into a new person, every thought and action purposeful and exact. I'd get it all right this time. That usually lasted about until the minute I had to wake up from my warm cozy bed on New Year's Day. I'm not very good at resolving to be a better person.

Last year I simply chose to go forward into the new year, each step brave and difficult and enough for the moment. I went forward through that year and marveled at all the good and lovely things that happened, from our New Year's Day discovery of a little stowaway, through a Lent of gratitude, beyond a busy summer, past catching that same little stowaway as he arrived into this world, all the way to December and our first Christmas spent at home instead of travelling. It was a very healing year.

This year feels like a year in which to be Fearless. Less worry, more life, that's what this year needs. But I've lived through enough new years to know it's not going to be as simple as that.

Because it all boils down to habits, doesn't it? One thing at a time, slowly, deliberately, it's the most likely way to craft a change that will last.

And so this fearless year is going to start with one simple thing, a morning alarm. These four lovely noisy children have long been my alarm, but somehow I sense that this season needs a change in that regard. A real alarm, a dedicated Time To Get Up, a way to start the day a little less abruptly and a little more purposefully, that's what this season needs.

It's a new year, yes, but let's not try to reinvent ourselves completely. We're still the same people we were a week ago, two weeks ago. A new year does not a new person make - but it can be a nice start to a new habit. One thing, however seemingly small, is another step on this continual turning toward Better.

New year, old me, new habit.

Do you have a word or a hope for 2015? Is there a new habit are you currently working on? What are you looking forward to this year?