Thursday, April 28, 2011

For the Love of Books (and Self-Improvement)!

One of my favorite things in the world, is a beaten up, scuffed up, old bookshelf in my bedroom that contains about a dozen books I've read and loved, a pile of my husband's books, and half a dozen or so books that I have read about a quarter of the way through.  (The rest of my well-loved books are still in storage, waiting for a large bookshelf to be purchased and installed in our basement once it's developed!)

I've always been a reader.  My mom tells me that I began to read at about 4 years old, and quickly began to gobble up the books in the children's section of the library.  In grade 2, I clearly remembered being chastised by the teacher for daydreaming when I was supposed to be silently reading an assigned piece along with the rest of the class.  Mrs. Wall, a stern, steel-gray-haired woman who was tall and lean with large, grayish-blue, plastic framed glasses (it was the 80's!), looked down at me with crossed arms and asked why I wasn't reading my work like all the other students.  I told her that I was done!  She sputtered and looked indignant for a moment then exclaimed "I think that is highly unlikely since I haven't finished reading it yet!"  She then began to smugly question me on the material, hoping to reveal my assumed deceit, yet I was able to answer each of her interrogating demands.  I don't remember any sort of acknowledgment conceding towards my honesty and apparent superior ability, but a few of the other students smiled at me, glad that I had one-upped our grim, domineering, older teacher.

For now, I don't have quite as much undisturbed time to immerse myself in a good book, and I've actually turned to more non-fiction because it's a lot easier to set down when life's duties are calling.  However, as I mentioned at the beginning, I have a small pile of books that I've only partly delved into, even though I really would like to finish each of them!  They are mostly parenting, marriage and self-improvement type books - topics that I uphold as a priority in my life, but I just can't seem to commit myself to regular study and completion of each book.  Honestly, this bothers me a lot.  Comprehension is not my problem, nor is it time-restraints (as I well displayed my ability to read quickly from the time I was 7 years old.) 

So what is stopping me from improving my life and learning the valuable lessons these books are freely offering to teach me, at my leisure?  It feels as though there is a greater underlying power at work, jeopardizing my desired results.   It reminds me of a team of people competing towards one unified goal and prize, only someone on the team undermines the goal and sabotages the team's ability to win because they succumb to the pressure of temptation or they lack endurance.  It seems that inside me, something continuously disrupts me and keeps me from digging deeper and reading through these books that will give me life-changing revelations!

Am I lazy? Perhaps.  Am I being subconsciously thwarted by my inner struggles?  Perhaps this is also true.

Once again, I am drawn to the idea of creating goals and making a plan.  In the same way that I create sticker-reward charts for my children, and have a training plan outlined for the half-marathon I will compete in this summer, I feel like I need to create a specific path for myself if I wish to overcome.

Whenever someone has a physical goal, say, to lose 20 pounds or to firm up or to be able to run 5K, they WILL NOT accomplish their goal without a plan.  Could you imagine if someone said: "Yep, I'm going to lose 20 pounds." and when asked how they would do it, replied: "Oh, I don't know.  I just want it to happen, so hopefully it will work."?  You would shake your head at them, maybe offer them a half-hearted "Good luck" and then expect to see no change over the next few months.

However, if someone says that they are setting out to lose 20 pounds and they have joined Curves or Weightwatchers, it's easy to encourage them and have high expectations toward their outcome.

I've been wondering about the same thing for my spiritual development.  Somewhere in the distance, I see myself becoming stronger, more gracious and kind and a better spouse and parent.  However, just wishing for this with no plans or path set out before me, is akin to wanting to lose weight without any plan to diet or exercise (or take some expensive, yet dangerous pills guaranteed to shed pounds).

I want to be purposeful in my walk as a believer in Christ.  I have to honestly assess my efforts to improve (possibly by reading books that I know will encourage and enlighten me) and compare those efforts to the time I waste and squander on a daily basis engaging in unprofitable activities.

The best way I can think of, in my busy life, to promote development,  is to purposefully commit to reading more - even if it means putting my "assigned book" in the bathroom.  Realistically, I should be able to read a chapter a day, which means I could complete several books a month.

My point in sharing my struggles with reading, serve both to make me accountable and to hopefully inspire you to "step it up" in the areas that you struggle with.  Without a plan, how will you achieve your goals?  Plans serve to uphold purpose, and purpose is the wind that sets us sailing into destiny.

Now off to my "quiet space" to hide and read for a few moments...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Anger + Action = Awful

Somewhere between one and one hundred times a day, I find myself caught in the crossfire of two warring children and I scramble minimize the damages caused by spiteful words and fighting.  They call it "sibling rivalry" and although these altercations take place between flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, with the same family name, it can get pretty nasty at times.  I wonder why it is that the people closest to us are often the people we are most jealous and vengeful toward!?  Yet, we can go all the way back to the beginning of Genesis, and observe how the first family created dealt with this issue as well, to the point of murder!  Poor Adam and Eve...  they didn't have any parenting manuals and role models to assist them in their monumental journey as the father and mother of mankind.

(Taken from The Action Bible published by David C Cook)

Growing up, there wasn't a ton of sibling rivalry in my household.  I was the second of two kids, having a brother who was 22 months older than me.  He often hung out with my dad and did "man stuff" in the garage, and I often followed my mom around, puttering around in the garden, going for walks, and learning to cook.  Whenever we fought, it was usually fairly brief, and we were admonished by my parents to "cut it out".

You can well imagine that as I thought about the complexities of having a large family, I was somewhat at a loss on how to manage sibling conflict.  When I asked my husband, who grew up in a larger family of a girl, then him (the firstborn son and top of the dog pile), and two other boys, he told me that his parents most often just left the boys to "work it out" on their own, unless there seemed to be an inordinate amount of bloodcurdling screams during their scraps.

So, over the years, I've had to turn to other sources for instruction and advisement on how to handle my growing brood.  One wise mother told me that she did not permit any fighting or mean behavior (including name-calling and harsh words) among her three children, and would promptly punish them the moment she heard them doing so.  Apparently it worked, and these three children, now grown-up with families of their own, are some of the most gracious people I've ever met.  (For reference's sake, there was one girl and two boys in the family.)  I have latched onto this ideal, yet upholding it in a family with many small, rambunctious, loud children is another issue altogether.

I wanted to share some of the methods I have been implementing in our family dynamic, which have helped me to promote harmony among my kids.  One of the first and most important rules is that name-calling, yelling, and harsh words are against the family code of kindness towards one another.  Whenever a child yells at someone rudely or speaks harshly or steps in and "tries to be the mom" (or dad) to another child, telling them what to do, we address this type of speech immediately.  That child is reprimanded to apologize for their words, and if necessary sent away for a few moments alone to think about their actions, and then can return to the situation and make amends.

When I catch my children fighting, however, it is a different story.  First of all, I am constantly pressing upon my children the fact that we are family, and we will ALWAYS be friends, no matter what.  They are told that it is not an option to be best friends with their siblings.  So when I find that two or three kids are involved in a fight over a toy, or "you hit me", or "you touched my thing" type of argument, I am quick to intervene.

A while back, I heard an author speak on Focus On The Family about siblings fighting, and he offered this advice.  Send them to a time out, together.  Preferably in a room that is uninteresting (without toys and such) like a bathroom.  There they must bide their time out together (and the timer doesn't begin until they have stopped yelling at each other) and they can only come out of the bathroom once they have worked things out, forgiven one another and both parties are content with the solution to the problem.

So, in my exuberance, I decided to try this method out the very next day after hearing this broadcast.  It happened to be my oldest two who were fighting about something - probably something small, such as "you stole my pencil", but they were full-blown yelling and arguing with each other.  I sent them to the bathroom and explained that they would remain in there until they had been quiet for a time out, and had worked out their problem and figured out how they would avoid this conflict in the future.  For the next 15 minutes I heard accusing, whining voices blaming one another for this horrible atrocity that had them stuck in such an awful predicament!  I came in and sternly warned them that they had better settle down, deal with the issue, and change their attitudes if they wanted to be free to leave the bathroom any time soon.

Shortly after, I heard some more yelling and then a crash, followed by sobbing.  Uh Oh... what happened now?  I stormed into the bathroom to find two very sober faced children with tears in their eyes, quickly pointing to one another with the intention of saying "It's their fault!".  Somehow, in their inability to work out their fight about the pencil, a shoving match had ensued, causing one child to push the other against the bathroom cabinet.  The cabinet was less than a year old, and had a glass window in the doorway, and it was now cracked with a spider-web like design...  My stomach sank and I felt the disappointment in every inch of my body.

"This is a teachable moment, this is a teachable moment" I murmured to myself as the children looked up at me with saucer eyes, comprehending the depth of trouble they had got themselves into.  I was angry.  I was also very disappointed.  I asked them if they could see how one small thing (their previous fight) and not controlling their tempers could lead to a large problem.  They tearfully acknowledged with woeful nods of their heads.  I told them that they were in trouble, and there would be consequences.  Then, I shut the door again for them to finish their time out and to work out their differences.  (I also needed a moment to go to my room for a time out and to do one of those 'silent screams' that moms do when they feel like they are about to lose it!)

Ultimately, the first "hard core" together time-out was destructive, but not a failure.  I have modified this mode of discipline to include group time-outs on the couch together (the loveseat, so they can't sit on opposite ends, and have to stay close to each other).  Sometimes, I will even instruct my kids to hold hands in their time out if they were fighting... and you can guess how much they enjoy that!! (Hee hee!)  Ultimately, I'm not trying to be mean or inflict cruel and unusual punishment upon my kids.  When all is said and done, I am trying to develop healthy conflict handling abilities within my children.  Everyone needs to learn how to "use their words"  and face the fact that their actions can hurt the feelings of others.  If I merely sent my kids to their own rooms, or opposite ends of the house for their time-outs, they would not be faced with the consequences and effect that their words and actions have on their sister/brother.  When I force them to be face to face with the relationship they are struggling with, I am telling them that they must learn repentance, forgiveness and graciousness.

There have been moments where the kids think "Fine.  I'll just say sorry and be done with it." and I've had to call them on that.  I would ask them if they have really chosen to forgive, and if they are now choosing kindness toward this other person.  We've talked about how it isn't always easy, but going back to the fact that we are family and we will always be best friends, sometimes you have to learn to CHOOSE to let go of these petty issues. Above all, I direct my kids' thoughts towards the forgiveness of Christ.  We all have been forgiven so much, and don't deserve the gift of grace we've been given.  Freely we have received, so freely we should give. (Matt. 10:8)

I don't have this whole issue figured out yet, but I can say that it is very much worth the effort.  In a household of 6 kids, I don't know what I would do if they were continually scrapping and yelling and clobbering each other.  I am constantly reaching toward a higher standard where the kids show a deeper love and concern for one another and are more helpful and kind.  I imagine much of this will be developed by my own example and modeling kindness towards them, which is something I know I have to work on myself!  Unfortunately it is human nature to be self-centered and selfish.  It is an unending process to work to curb this behavior in ourselves, and in our kids!

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!
(Psalm 133:1, The Message)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Education Obsession (Are Children Being Taught Too Much?)

I recently spoke with a friend of mine who told me how her three year old son was being sent home from preschool with homework each week.  Homework!  While not mandatory, the teacher relented, the top of each page said "Return by Friday".  I didn't think to ask what sort of homework might be required of a three year old, but I began to imagine what sort of work my own three year old might be capable of, being a bright child in my opinion, but pretty much on par with most kids his age.  Perhaps it was an animal coloring sheet, or one with shapes, or maybe even something meant for self-expression.  But if I gave my three year old schoolwork to do, I'd expect some exuberant scribbles, a few folds and tearing of the paper and maybe a couple peanut butter and jelly smears for extra credit.

Our society seems to be currently immersed in an education obsession (or an "education bubble", as my economically-minded husband would say).  Perhaps this shift is the result of an era of mindless television programming that went on for a good couple of decades (mostly throughout my childhood, I'll add);  the kind of nonsense that would rot one's brain.  Now children's television is bathed in a slathering of education as Dora chants out key words in Spanish and translates them into English.  Little Einsteins save the world once again with their skippy little songs and rhymes and Word Girl decodes another 4th grade level vocabulary word to render the villainous perpetrator harmless. (Villainous and perpetrator being advanced fourth grade words, of course!)

One needn't look past the typical toy box in today's modern home to see the effect this education focus has weaved into our lives.  I'll use my home as an example.  Our small toybox in the living room is meant to contain toys primarily for the 3 and under crowd in our house.  I expect my older children to keep their "junk" in their own bedrooms for their personal enjoyment, and ultimately so I don't have to trip over even more items on my way to the kitchen!  Yet, off of the top of my head, I can think of many "learning enhancing" toys that are specifically for babies and toddlers.  There is a soft, cloth covered caterpillar toy decorated with the primary colors and multiple buttons on each hump of his body.  Press the buttons and you have the option to hear colors, numbers, ABC's, and music by some of the most famous classical composers.  It's like a sugar coated dose of culture all in a cuddly little buddy with a dozen or so dangley, cute little caterpillar feet.  We also have one of those musical drums that allows you to hear in English - or French! - ABC's, and helps you to recognise patterns by letting you copy and play recorded beats.  There's another cute little spider creature whose belly is made of a plastic screen.  Touch the spider's tummy and she'll spin a magical web of letters, numbers and shapes!

It's fantastic really - these toys would have seemed too good to be true when I was a baby, let alone back when my parents were children.  They would sound like space-age, futuristic inventions that were made exclusively for the rich and famous.  Yet, we have all of that and more for just 20 or 30 dollars!

While we're on the topic of educating the very young, I can remember coming across an advertisement of a CD set for the unborn baby.  This curriculum, per se, was designed specifically to enhance your baby's brain development and promote exceptional learning and stimulate potential, all while the baby rested cosily in his mother's womb!  A smiling, smartly dressed, responsible looking mother was shown with a discreetly exposed pregnant belly that had oversized earphones hooked up to it, allowing the sound to be transmitted into the baby's cozy world.

I'm not disputing the fact that good music and exposure to quality literature and stimulating conversation isn't beneficial to young children, babies and perhaps even the unborn child, but isn't this picture looking a little bit obsessive?  At every turn, we are commended and even chided into pouring education into our children.  We compare their development to the charts and wonder what is age-appropriate and whether they are behind or advanced compared to other kids their age.  We look for schools that will expose them to MORE opportunities for MORE educational, cultural experiences so as not to limit their potential (and eventually their future career.)  We buy charts and flash cards, games and LeapPads, and especially movies which can qualify as both entertaining and educational so we can have an occasional break from the tedious, success driven stimulation of our children's most precious possession - their brains! 

I am concerned.  Whatever happened to letting children play?  Where is the opportunity for imaginative recreation - the kind where clothes become muddy and you are required to tend to the occasional scraped knee?

These are simply my observations, yet I've felt a turning in my perspective as I wade through the clutter of "educational toys" that fill my kids rooms and toyboxes.  There can be toys surrounding my 1 year old, and yet he goes back to the cupboard and finds a cup and it's lid and experiments by twisting and banging and maneuvering it every which way until he succeeds in connecting the two ends together properly so they stick.  He delights in such a simple, wholesome activity that required me to spend no money, prepare no lesson and consult no manual of the latest scientific, neurological research.

Should these kids spend their days playing with sticks and dirt????

Stay tuned, and we'll find out whether I'm brave enough to do the unthinkable and purge the unimaginative toys and media from our home...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning: Grand Finale

Read my previous Sugar-Cleanse Blogs:

Day 1 and Introduction

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10 - I finished my last day!!!  After all my fears about how I would feel when I finally had the freedom to eat sugar and carbs, when I did finally cross the finish line, it was easy to eat a few treats with my husband.  Sugar has never tasted so sweet!   I spent my entire day eating "properly" and decided to break the "fast" around 9pm, since I ceased to eat goodies around that time after my binge at that girls party 10 days ago.

I'll tell you one thing - I've never eaten a tiny snack sized Twix bar so slowly in my life.  It was as if every aspect of that candy bar came alive to me in vivid detail.  The milk chocolate on the outside (which is not my favorite kind of chocolate, so I still need to get my hands on some dark chocolate)  melted in my mouth and onto my fingers, the caramel layer tasted oddly artificial and almost too sugary, and the cookie part crunched in my mouth leaving sugary crumbs to dissolve on my tongue. 

We had a couple of leftover store-bought Nanaimo bars that were in the freezer for me and my husband, and I took those out with high expectations of the ultimate sugar rush!  Sadly, when I ate it, it tasted really artificial and too sweet.  Probably the most enjoyable thing I ate afterwards was a toasted tomato sandwich - my first bread in 10 days.  It was satisfying and tasted real and delicious.  The funny thing was, it contained vegetables!! Ha ha...

So, ultimately, I think I have brought myself to a greater place of control.  I believe I will be better at assessing whether I really want something, or if I'm just wanting to eat it based out of boredom or because it's there.  I think I'll also be better at assessing what my body is truly craving and perhaps I'll give it a lot more of the vegetables that it deserves and needs.  I even bought a rutabaga at the store yesterday!

This 10 Day Cleanse probably merits a follow up in a week or so to gauge longer-term results, so I'll let you all know what I observe.  Now to make some fresh Hot Cross Buns with my kids!  (Can't wait to eat fresh buns!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 9 - Spring Cleaning: I Can See the Finish Line and I Don't Like It!

Read my previous Sugar-Cleanse Blogs:

Day 1 and Introduction

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9: Ahhh!!! I've finished the second last day of my cleanse (and I'm on the last day as I write). I can hardly believe it! I even attended a pot luck last night full of glorious goodies - particularly some fluffy pink marshmallow salad - the kind that's been around at church pot lucks since I was a kid, and I ADORE! But I was strong and only ate a plain hamburger patty and some cucumbers and grape tomatoes (super boring meal and I probably looked like an obsessed dieter, which is totally not me!).

One thing I realized as I near the end of this sugar cleanse, is that I actually fear leaving the confines of my strict diet! I've always been the sort of person that craves rules and standards, and I love to put myself into "boot camp" type situations where I have to work hard and feel like I'm being forced to work at something. I don't know how many times over the years, from the time I was a teenager, I would write up a rule list for myself for one goal or another that I wished to accomplish.

Although I will soon be able to eat anything I want, I'm not sure whether I want to swallow the first sugary item I see. I don't want to just eat sugar for the sake of eating sugar. I also have been thinking of restricting myself to a "treat day" every week, so I don't feel like I have the freedom to become my former candy crazed self.

Even with the normal carbs - pasta, bread, white rice - I'm thinking of taking it easy on those for a while too. I imagine my best response would be to limit the quantities of those items, and replace them with far more vegetables than I would normally have eaten in the past. I think that would show for a successful change in my life.

So, it has become very easy to do this sugar-busting cleanse, because I didn't stumble at all, even in the face of desserts at a pot luck! However, just like an animal that was scared and is used to his/her cage, I'm feeling trepidation and caution about leaving the confines of my new habits.

I'll go back to enjoying the safety of this last day... perhaps when I write tomorrow, there will be much slurring of speech and incoherency because of the sugar affecting my brain. Or maybe I'll still be sugar free?!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Real Love: Not For DVD Release

Love in the movies is like syrup on top of a pile of thick waffles, with all the most decadent toppings: strawberries, blueberries, whipped cream and chocolate. What you don't see is that it is served up on a plate that has nasty, crusty old food stuck to it because it wasn't cleaned properly. The foundations of this "so-called" true love are rarely based on healthy relationships, but on chance and once-in-a-lifetime incidences where your passionate feelings (or maybe it's lust?) speak for your heart.

The stories are always the same: girl meets boy and they are starstruck, but there are incredible odds against them and through deceit, betrayal, and many un-truths, they manage to end up together in the end and live "happily ever after". Or, girl is fawning after an unreachable guy and by pretending to be something she is not, she captures his attention and heart - then the inevitable happens and he finds out the truth, but after a brief episode of rejection and despair, love wins and they are together at last, nothing can keep them from TRUE LOVE. Oh, and in a situation where your "true love" is in a relationship with another person - even engaged, it's okay to pursue this relationship because you are meant to be with them, and nothing can keep you apart! Of course there are other variations of this romantic fantasy, but keep in mind, they rarely blossom out of a healthy, honest, time-tested relationship.

I admit, I enjoy a good romantic comedy, but they kind of leave you either pining for something more "magical" in your relationship, or you see it for the fake it is, and just filled up two hours of your life with nonsense.

There have been times in the past where I've compared my marriage to the fantasy, fall-in-love, on "cloud nine" relationship where there's always sparks and fireworks and being with that person makes you weak in the knees - you know, that kind of love portrayed on the movies where you'd give up anything to be with that person! The problem is, there are seasons where marriage seem to be 90% mundane and only 10% exciting (because you can't just stare into your spouse's eyes all day, reclining and feeding each other peeled grapes - there's work to be done). Add a few (ahem.. maybe even six) kids to the equation, and you have a heap of laundry to clear off the bed, crumbs to brush off your pillow and on top of that, exhaustion to cope with before you could even begin to imagine any sparks!

Yet, I believe a Christ-centred marriage can and should be so much more! I'm constantly in pursuit of becoming a better wife, more dedicated and more passionate towards my husband. I don't feel "trapped" in my marriage and for the most part, I don't feel loaded down by the family we have created together. Within the tornado of our existence - if you look past the busy family schedule, the thousands of questions asked by six little people (well, five because the baby can't talk -yet!); if you look past all the stuff we do as a family, at the core and heart is a marriage.

Our marriage is the heart of our family, and I won't let anyone (not even our kids) get in the way. I'm learning that true love means I shouldn't even let ME get in the way. Yep. That's what I'm coming down to - not that there aren't a ton of feelings involved, but in all honesty, what truly matters and will make my marriage beautiful, is if I am not the centre of it. Whenever I start pulling all the attention to myself, my needs, my wants, and how hard life is for me... well, it gets kind of depressing. I can't imagine working all day and coming into the house only to have my husband thrust a squalling, stinky kid at me (needing a diaper change), and pointing at two children - one pulling on the other's hair, the other screaming bloody murder - and have him say: "Dear, would you please take care of your children? They're driving me crazy!"

Yet, there are often days where I express this to one degree or another as my husband walks in the door and has yet to acclimatize himself to the blazing tempers under our roof. So where was I going with this? Well... I guess I just wanted to express that love is an expression that happens even when you don't feel like it. Sometime you have to choose a loving action despite having had a bad day. After all, this is the person that said they would accept you and care for you, rain or shine, rich or poor, warts and all!

I know I'm super blessed to have a husband who is selfless and caring and always lavishing affection on me. But the challenge remains the same - how many relationships could be changed by selfless acts that don't ask for payback in return? This sort of love breeds a deeper care and compassion for one another - and believe me, there's a lot of joy and passion to be found in a marriage you work on selflessly.

I'll probably still watch some cute romantic movies from time to time... but... I want to be cautious in my mindset. That sort of love is like popcorn - it can get rained on, and dissolves to resemble nothing of it's former self! The love I'm after is solid, secure and based on sound commitment. Real love... the kind that has lots of work involved, but is satisfying and time-tested. It's the kind of love that wouldn't make a romantic blockbuster with butterflies in your stomach and sweaty palms, knights in shining armor and damsels in distress... but overall makes for a wonderful life.

Day 8 - Spring Cleaning (Reflecting on Lessons Learned)

Read my previous Sugar-Cleanse Blogs:

Day 1 and Introduction

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8: I felt a lot better this day, perhaps I can give credit to the vegetables for a speedy recovery! It was a pretty uneventful day, and I have to admit, I've lost momentum on finding new recipes and ways to eat sugar/carb free. It's probably due to the fact that I know I only have a couple days left, so I might as well just stick to the usual things I've been eating over the course of the week.

We had some company over for lunch, and while I stuck to my "diet" and ate brown rice with my meat and had no dessert, they asked "So why are you doing this cleanse?"

Off the top of my head, my responses were: energy, better health, control cravings, and to detox.

I think, having considered my answer, my top reason is CONTROL. There have been far too many times over the years that I've been found wondering what I was thinking when I ate another helping of dessert, or finished off that box of chocolates or raided my stash of licorice for the 5th time in one day. While I don't eat an extraordinary amount of food, causing me to put on hundreds of pounds like some binge-eaters, to me, it's still a binge when I come out on the other side realizing "I didn't really need to eat that." Don't get me wrong, I LOVE treats and can't see myself ever becoming a vegetarian or health-nut that doesn't eat chocolate and cookies and steaks and wings and all manner of deep-fried delights. However, I want to be in control. I want to be more logical about my food choices, and not eat something just because I FEEL like it.

I've had to discipline myself to stick to this plan, and the biggest problem has been in my mind. It's like there is a little voice warning me that if I don't give in now, and eat some chocolate, I might never get a chance to eat chocolate again! Of course that is ridiculous, but in the same way that there isn't a monster under the bed of a 4 year old, it's pretty hard to convince them otherwise. My feelings and my body have done their best to persuade me this past week, but thankfully my logic has won!

While I'll certainly be thankful if my body has been rid of some vicious toxins and my health is better and I'm more energetic, I'm most thankful to have taught myself more self-control. It's worth it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 7 - Spring Cleaning

Read my previous Sugar-Cleanse Blogs:

Day 1 and Introduction

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7: Well, I can rejoice in the fact that I survived a whole week. Yahoo! However, day 7 left me in bed nearly all day, wondering if the way I felt was related to my cleanse, or if I was suffering from a flu bug. In the end, when I found myself feverish and realized that my symptoms were very similar to the ones my youngest daughter had suffered earlier in the week, it became clear that there was more to my pain than this cleanse.

Being sick definitely wreaked havoc on my resolve yesterday, that's for sure! Although I did not "cheat," for a while I was thinking that I should have juice because I was sick. My husband, who decided to only do the cleanse for one week (therefore being on his last day), was talking about some of the things he would like to eat. Then I asked him to bring me my vintage "special breads" cookbook from the 70's so I could peruse it while I was resting in bed. OH MY GOODNESS! The yeast and sugar was calling to me, mesmerizing me with pictures of bread, muffins and cakes - fluffy pillows of goodness. There were Swedish rolls, cinnamon buns, tea rings, and coffee cakes. I found recipes in there that I've never tried before and vowed to try them when this cleanse is over. I told my husband that looking at the pictures (even though the pages were yellowed with age) was like looking at food porn!

So, basically it was an uneventful 7th day since I was laying around for most of it. Only 3 days to go! One of the things I wonder is if those "forbidden foods" are going to taste as good as I think they will. I also don't want to throw myself into a complete binge either - I'm hoping that having completed this strict regime, I will be able to have more control and not be obsessive about sweets - and mindlessly gobble them down when I eat them!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 6 - Spring Cleaning : Betrayed by the Vegetables

Read my previous Sugar-Cleanse Blogs:

Day 1 and Introduction

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6: After all the good I've done, the vegetables have betrayed me. I feel rotten. I woke up in the morning with a sore throat and feeling a little "off". It wasn't so bad, though, and I thought I'd carry on with my day. Towards the afternoon, I'd about had it, and gave in to having a nap. I was exhausted and still wanted to go to the gym later, and my only hope was that I'd feel better after a short rest.

I did feel a bit better, and took my running shoes and went to work out. Sadly, the energy just wasn't there - right from the start, it felt like my legs were heavy and I didn't feel comfortable running my normal pace. I thought: This is okay, I'll just push through these feelings and run more slowly. Nothing will stop me from my training. What would happen if I felt crappy on the day of a race? I'd do it anyway!

So, I continued. But one mile felt like two, and my second mile had me making up excuses to stop for a moment - change the channel on the TV in front of me, have another drink. It just wasn't happening. I gave up about halfway through my 6 mile run, and headed home to fall into bed.

I am a little perplexed, of course. I mean, haven't I been eating an extraordinarily healthy diet filled with wonderful, colorful vegetables when I normally have a mono-toned plate of food? Isn't this supposed to be about feeling FAN-Frickin'-TASTIC???? (pardon my foul language).

Then my scientific, research-addicted, brainy husband informed me: "Sore throat? Oh... that's one of the symptoms."

Symptoms? Of being healthier? What?

Well, the fact is, that when you aggressively attack the balance of candida (yeast) in your body by restricting sugar (and carbs) that it loves to feed on, it begins to die off around day 5. And, like Custer's last stand, it's not a pretty sight. Detoxification by introducing healthy foods and restricting "unhealthy" foods can affect you not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. By supplying your body with the proper nutrients, the systems can better operate and attack the toxins previously ingested, cleansing them from your system - which isn't always going to feel like a joyous experience.

Here is a list of symptoms one might experience during a cleanse:
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • flu-like symptoms
  • excess gas
  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • sinus congestion
  • hives
  • increased thirst
  • insomnia
  • canker sores
  • bowel sluggishness or diarrhea
  • discouragement
  • mental fogginess
  • weakness
  • reluctance to exercise
  • irritability and, because of the way a healthier body can go back to attend to former conditions,
  • a recurrence of old aches and pains

  • (For further information and to see this list, go to:

    Well, doesn't that all sound lovely?

    But I'll take heart. Perhaps I am winning this battle after all. Although I feel like throwing in the towel and gobbling down some comfort-food to get me through this physical angst, I will tough it out a little longer in hopes of a successful cleanse.

    Now back to bed...

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    Day 5 - Spring Cleaning

    Read my previous Sugar-Cleanse Blogs:

    Day 1 and Introduction

    Day 2

    Day 3

    Day 4

    Day 5:

    I'm going to keep today's update short, but I think in Day 5 I really noticed a difference in my energy. I felt better than I have in a long time, and felt like I was drinking coffee all day (without the jitteryness) and I wasn't drinking coffee! I guess a lot of books and websites about this sort of diet suggest that it can take around 5 days before you stop feeling crappy and start to reap any benefits. While I still am looking forward to eating some treats, and maybe make a nice fluffy loaf of white bread to smother with butter and eat warm, I also don't mind the veggies and the fact that I am continually making eating choices that are better for my body.

    So I think that if anyone is going to attempt this sort of diet, you'd have to do at least a week if you want to feel any sort of changes in your body. You can't take the way you feel on Day 3, and say: "Well, if that's the way vegetables are going to make me feel, I never want to eat spinach again!" because the reason you feel that way is not the spinach, but the gunk and sluggishness clearing out of your system from too much sugar. It's also related to the fact that you've been running on a sugar high, instead of tapping into foods that support your body healthily. Also, mentally, I am doing doing a lot better with being content at the end of a meal. Although I am excited for the "off limits" foods, I don't feel as obsessed with them anymore.

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    A Homeschooling Garden

    I'm a hardcore homeschooler. I love the fact that I can spend time with my children and delight in their expressions as they discover the world around them. Just as you might clap with excitement when your toddler takes his first step, I am always thrilled when I see my older children tackle new skills, and take steps in their learning that leads to success and gain along the way. The difference is, that these successes come in spurts, and can't be expected to arrive on course with predictability or consistency.

    Learning to understand each of your children's stages and particular flow is vital. In my first years homeschooling, there was a lot of frustration when my firstborn didn't seem to be learning the way I expected her to. I wanted her to sit down and happily complete page after page in her workbooks, and get the answers right, and she would cry in frustration that she didn't get it! After some time I realized that what I expected of her was inappropriate for her development. It would be like expecting a pea plant to produce edible pods within a couple weeks - the way lettuce can produce edible leaves very quickly.

    Some children spring up quickly in their fascination with the complexities of this world, and in their ability to grasp the mechanics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Some children take their time - not ready to dive in without hesitation, but rather dip their toes one at a time and test the waters. As they gain confidence, they get in up to their knees, then their belly button, their neck - until, suddenly you realize they've got it and are swimming.

    I have both kinds of children - ones who will just dive into whatever material I offer, and others who need to sample and sort and search out "bit by bit" before willingly consuming new information and ideas. My challenge is to coax each child into fruitfulness. In the same way that plants need good soil, water and sunshine to grow, so also do my children require nurturing, acceptance and inspiration as they grow and learn.

    Sometimes I get off track and I am caught up in the lists and requirements and expectations whether they be real or imaginary. When I find myself "freaking out" over the lack of pages done and number of words written, it is an occasion to remind myself WHY I am doing this.

    It's the look of wonder as we experiment with baking soda and vinegar - again! It's the sweet cuddles and daydream expressions as we read an award-winning novel out loud, together. It's seeing my child's joyous expression when they finally "get it" and can tackle a new math equation. I'm so thankful that I get to experience this first hand. I get to watch my little garden grow, each little "plant" different and waiting to be cultivated by my loving kindness and by partaking of the opportunities for wonder in this world God has made.

    Day 4 - Spring Cleaning

    Read my previous Sugar-Cleanse Blogs:

    Day 1 and Introduction

    Day 2

    Day 3

    Day 4:

    To start off, eating this type of diet requires a LOT of chewing. With all the roughage and raw material being consumed, and the fact that we are still eating meat (like steak), you tend to sit at the table chewing for a very long time. Is this a good thing, or does it just make you feel like a cow chewing her cud?

    A few months ago, I remember learning about the types of food that quickly form a bolus in your mouth; easily chewed up and becoming, as the dictionary says: a soft, roundish mass or lump, especially of chewed food . Think about when you eat crackers, bread, bananas, chips, and most fast food. Specifically fast food - it's not just fast because they can make it in a jiffy, but because you can literally consume it in minutes! It takes very little time to chew up a soft, sweet bun filled with a grease-loaded burger, lubed with sweet, slippery mayonnaise and barbecue sauce for a smooth journey down the hatch.

    One of the biggest problems with foods that quickly form a bolus, is that most of them are highly processed and not exactly natural. They are most often depleted of most of the nutrients and fibre that is good for you. REAL food is often harder to eat, takes longer to digest, but will supply your body with REAL nutrition that you need, without overloading you on useless calories.

    So, despite feeling like a grazing animal at mealtime, picking over a plate of crunchy, fibrous veggies I can take comfort in the fact that this stuff is really good for me, good for my digestive system and will help me in the long run. When you give your body food the way nature intended, one might assume that your body will feel better, look better and operate better!

    One last thought... and I will talk in vague terms, but if you of a more "genteel" nature, this might be TMI (too much information) for you: One might wonder how long it takes for one's digestive system to catch up with a new style of eating, particularly a diet with a significant increase in fibre. Let's just say the morning of the 4th day (yesterday) left me feeling much lighter. This effect may be different depending on how starchy/sugary your diet has been in the past, and I had been filling myself with a lot of junk in the previous week. However, a healthy diet promotes healthy digestion and doesn't leave you sluggish and slow. That's all I have to say about that.

    Yay for roughage!

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Day 3 - Spring Cleaning

    (Click here to read Day 1 and the Introduction)

    (Day 2)

    Day 3:

    Well, just a quick update if you're wondering how the sugar-bust is taking it's course in my life.

    I think one of the most difficult things about choosing a different way of eating is that it involves a lot of planning. You have to think ahead about what sort of meals you will have, and ensure that those ingredients are available. You can't just snack on all the "ready-to-eat" snack foods that we so commonly turn to when we feel a little hungry.

    Here are some of the meals I ate yesterday for day 3: I scrambled eggs with garlic, spinach and a bit of feta cheese for breakfast. (A little too garlicky first thing in the morning!) For lunch, I made a simple Coconut-Curry-Cauliflower soup with some homemade chicken stock, and it is super-delicious and follows the parameters of the diet. For supper we had Greek Salad, and some Greek-style pork kabob thingies (which, after grilling on a George Foreman grill ended up looking like lopsided patties, not kabobs). I actually felt happily satisfied after dinner!

    Here's the big news. I had to quickly run to the store to pick up a couple items, and I wasn't going crazy at the sight of all the "off limits" foods! I walked past the chip aisle with scorn in my eyes, knowing that it was not something that would make me feel happy. I tried to show disdain when walking down the chocolate aisle, but it wasn't quite so easy. There was a little bit of longing associated with the chocolate bars, junior mints, and especially with the bars of dark chocolate. I slowed my hustle for a moment to get a good look at the shiny packaged goodies, and began to salivate. "No." I told my tastebuds sternly and we (me and my tastebuds) continued to walk over to the vegetable section to buy some delicious, nutritious celery.

    So, for the most part, I'm not feeling obsessed with those "quick-energy-releasing" sugary/starchy foods. I think that is a victory in itself! I am still prone to slip into occasional daydreams about what I will eat when these 10 days are over. I also found myself revealing my cravings with subliminal messages, like when I was teaching the spelling word "flow" to my kids and used it in the sentence: "I would like there to be a flow of chocolate running into my mouth." But apart from the occasional slips into my former sugar-driven thoughts, I'm doing well and I actually feel pretty decent. Oh, and no headaches at all - I guess I can survive on just one cup of coffee a day. (But should I try to cut down to no coffee? Hmmm.... sounds like a challenge... I'll get back to you on that one!)

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Day 2 of my Spring Cleaning

    (Click here to read Day 1 and the Introduction)

    Here are my thoughts and feelings on my second day of the "Sugar-Cleanse-Diet".

    Day 2:
    I woke up and was still feeling very hungry and experiencing pretty severe cravings for starches and sugar. I had a couple eggs and my special new concoction for breakfast: cut up granny smith apples (this is one of the least sugary fruits, and having one a day is permitted in a lot of the food lists I looked up) mixed together with plain yoghurt, walnuts, cinnamon and nutmeg. It's actually quite tasty once you get past the sour-ness.

    For lunch we had a brown rice and green vegetable stir fry (no sugary stir-fry sauces added, of course). This carried me through the day with a decent amount of energy, and I found that into the afternoon, I was thinking a lot less about sweets. I think the cravings are being beaten into submission!

    We had a very delicious dinner - a tomato-beef pasta sauce served on top of spaghetti squash. I gobbled it down, enjoying every bite! Then I had to rush off to take my kids to AWANA, and I would be attending my last Grace Based Parenting class simultaneously.

    Here's where I stumbled a little. There was coffee... Oh, wait! I guess I didn't mention that I planned to cut out most of my caffeine intake, and have been limiting myself to 1 cup a day. Usually during the class, there is an urn with de-caf coffee available, so I took one little styrofoam cup, and sipped it gratefully. However, I noticed about 20 minutes later that my usual subdued, calm demeanor was replaced with peppy participation during the class discussion. Uh oh! I think it actually contained caffeine. Ooops, sorry! (Sort of...)

    In the later evening my husband and I talked about going out for a date, but we couldn't think of any place or any food that would be acceptable. We settled for the other half of our granny smith apples, (mine mixed with yogurty goodness) and a cup of decaf-earl grey mixed with just a little bit of unsweetened coconut milk. The tea was delicious and had a bit of a satisfying fattiness to it. It was difficult, however, to drink Earl Grey without eating some biscuits (a tradition I've had since I visited England as a teenager).

    So my conclusion is that this is actually getting easier. I think the first 48 hours must be the hardest to manage. I've also been dealing with a minor headache off and on, which is probably from limiting caffeine.

    I do like, however, the fact that I am feeling more in charge of my eating and not just listening to my feelings and emotions. I was always such a snacker, and would often eat (junk) without even really thinking about it, or even really enjoying it!

    On a spiritual note, I do feel like there is significance in mastering my appetite and cravings. Philippians 3:19 says: "whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame--who set their mind on earthly things", speaking of those who are not surrendered to Christ and being transformed by Him. Although food seems like such a minor area, the Bible specifically talks about regular fasting (combined with prayer) as a healthy part of your Christian walk. While it may not be my intent to make this whole 10 day diet a spiritual experience, life has a way of connecting the dots, and what happens in your physical realm can have an effect on your spiritual realm. I have come to recognise in the last couple days, just how much control my cravings have over me. It has shown me how much of my hunger hasn't been true hunger, but a craving and perceived need in my mind. I think this is valuable information... which actually makes me more accountable to my actions (and eating habits) in the future.

    Here's hoping that in day 3, I can make broccoli taste like Smarties!

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Spring Cleaning

    I'm going to be chronicling a new topic for me - one that involves the physical far more than the emotional being. I admit it, I hesitated as to whether my current endeavor would make for a good blog, considering I'm usually pondering the deeper meaning behind my life as a mom, wife and just being plain old me. But, here we go, I'm going to share my thoughts and feelings and weaknesses as I take the challenge of a 10 day sugar-cleansing diet.

    The plan: 10 days of removing sugar and high-glycemic foods from my diet. So that means no breads, pasta, high-sugar fruits or veggies and certainly no ice cream, candy, and (gasp!) no chocolate.

    Why? I'd like to cut out my sugar addiction, gain more energy, and kick-start my immune system. I will be eating tons of vegetables that are normally more of a garnish on my plate than a staple (mmm... broccoli, kale, ginger and turnips!), and I hope that my taste and desire for vegetables will be lasting and become a habit!

    So that, in a nutshell, is how I'm doing this "cleanse". I'm not using a specific book, but I did actually borrow a lot of the "good foods" and "bad foods" list from sites that talk about candida (yeast overgrowth) in the body, which can often come from too much sugar.

    Now that I've introduced my next ten days, I will be observing the effects and trials of following this "diet".

    Day 1: Ummm... wait... in all honesty, I should probably begin with yesterday.
    The Day Before: Okay, I'll admit it, I went slightly overboard binging on treats yesterday. Let's just say that my Sunday afternoon rest involved lounging on my bed, tackling a box of Junior Mints and some Reece's Pieces. Oh, and that was just the afternoon!

    The evening was a perfect Mardi Gras before my Lent. Oh... if you didn't know, Mardi Gras happens to fall just before Lent - why? So everyone can get the partying and craziness out of their systems before they have to fast and be spiritual. Pretty typical of humanity to do this sort of thing, and the natural inclination was exhibited in my behavior as well. Yesterday evening just happened to be a girls movie night at a friend's house with the rule "no healthy snacks allowed". The intention was to gorge on chocolate, chips, candy, and more chocolate. I crammed myself full of goodies and washed it down with root beer. Our sappy movie was the perfect backdrop for our feast, and I was in a bit of a sugar coma at the end of the night. To be honest, I didn't feel very good. All the better to kick-start my upcoming fling with veggies and brown rice.

    Day 1: You wouldn't believe how hungry I felt in the morning. Maybe it was the knowledge that I was changing my habits, but I opened the cupboards and to my disbelief, realized that nearly everything was "off limits". I settled on a handful of almonds, knowing that I'd be eating many delicious, nutritious veggies later in the day, after we did our special shopping trip. What's crazy though, is that I walked over to the counter and saw leftover chocolate from the night before and was instantly mesmerized. You would think that the binge the night before would have deterred me, but no! I would have gladly licked the leftover chocolate bits off the serving platter with gratitude.

    Another thing I noticed was that after we ate our healthy lunch (grilled pork seasoned with garlic, smoked paprika, olive oil and lemon juice; along with a colorful spinach salad with an apple cider vinaigrette), I got to the place where I felt full, but I was still hungry. I greedily watched the children eat cheese buns with their lunch, and my brain was telling me that I needed that instant gratification that carbohydrates and sugars can offer. The hunger was in my mind - it was a craving that revealed what I already knew - I had a sugar addiction... Sugar makes me feel good, and can deliver good feelings fast.

    So, after a day of eating sugar and carb free, I don't exactly feel hungry, but my body keeps telling me that I want to break the rules and satisfy my sweet tooth. I just wonder how long it will take before the obsession dies down? I don't want to spend my days ogling over my baby's bowl of cheerios, and salivating when I see my kids eat a banana... mmmm... even fruit sugar is addictive!

    Perhaps my dreams tonight will involve a skittle rainbow, leading to fluffy cotton candy clouds. This is a magical land with magical creatures, like a bunny that poops out candy-coated chocolate eggs and cows that produce chocolate milk. Then there is me, sumptuously stretched out on my back, floating in a pool of dark chocolate.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Streamlining for a Better Journey

    A couple of days ago, I described the immense challenge we took as a family to transport ourselves from North America to the other side of the globe. It was an incredible effort that required a lot of luggage for the journey. (You can read the story by clicking here.) We couldn't expect to buy some of the necessary items we needed like baby gear, books, and for me - maternity clothes when we arrived in Thailand, and we also wanted to bring a few comfort items along with us. So, we took advantage and used our entire luggage allotment and then some! Each suitcase was weighed and filled to 50 pounds and our carry on bags were stuffed with a menagerie of important items.

    In my previous blog, I also painted a vivid picture of some of the hurdles we had to jump through just to get our bags to the other side of the security lines when we were in L.A.. Just imagine carrying a couple of very heavy suitcases through a crowded hallway, while also carrying overstuffed backpacks, and, all the while keeping track of 3 energetic young children!

    Many of us walk through life feeling like we are a traveler dragging a couple old, wobbly suitcases; wearing a backpack loaded up with bricks and having our arms loaded up with a poorly stacked pile of books and files and other random objects. Try as we might, we can't seem to break into the momentum we'd like to have and we are weighed down by stuff from our past that we cling to - not knowing that life would be much better if we'd let go of those things. Sometimes what weighs us down is not quite as obvious, and it's more like we're wearing those old ankle weights that were popular back in the 80's - except the ankle weights are a good twenty pounds each, and really hinder your ability to pick up speed in life, and you always feel tired.

    If you are lugging around some baggage in your life, there's a good chance you can quickly identify some of the most obvious things that are on your "to do list" that you'd like to work on. Life, to me, is about constant development and stepping up to challenges so I can do the best I can and become the best I can, with the time that has been allotted to me.

    However, the nature of the baggage I'm about to tackle is more like the 80's ankle weights that you could hide beneath your workout clothes and no one would be the wiser. It seems to lurk beneath the surface. What I'm concerned about in my life if the kind of stuff you just want to ignore, sweep under the rug, pretend it's not there - or simply cope with and justify. It's the kind of issues that slowly wear you down, but they're not glaring faults, so they are easy to excuse.

    When I was a child, and now that I have children myself, I've noticed that the concept of cleaning can be liberally interpreted. If I say "clean up the living room" to my 5 year old, that means she might move some toys around and pick up a couple random pieces of paper up off the floor, putting them on the kitchen counter or, heaven forbid, toss them into my bedroom for me to deal with later! Obviously this doesn't meet my standard of cleanliness, but to a 5 year old, some effort has been put in and she probably feels that the living room looks fine now. If I was going to pay my oldest child to clean up the living room (not that we pay our kids to do chores...) then my expectations and standards would be quite a bit higher. I would expect the broom and mop to come out, and I'd want the piano and fireplace mantle to be dusted. I wouldn't want to find any toys, papers, shoes, sippy cups, apple cores or cheerios under the couches! I might even expect the couch cushions to be vacuumed and windows to be washed.

    As we inspect our lives, and more explicitly our hearts, we often treat the examination and soul-searching the way a 5 year old would clean the living room. The obvious issues might be repented of, and we pledge to change and make an effort to do better. Some of the things in our lives are obvious - and these problems are generally less dangerous because they are in the open and we aren't trying to ignore them! I believe the danger is in what lurks beneath the surface - those issues that we dread to uncover, face head-on and deal with once and for all.

    However, my heart convicts me to look deeper and be willing to face things in my life which I have excused and justified for so long. I can't lie to myself and say that those issues are non-issues when they have a negative impact on my life and my relationship with others. So I am open to the revelation of mindsets that hold me back - emotions which pop up and have a poor effect on how I treat others. As humbling and scary as it is, I'm willing to see my faults so I can be open to change.

    The Christian life is paradoxical in many ways. On one hand, God demands our time, effort, mind, will, emotions, and even our money, but on the other hand, He is a gentleman and will not force his way into our personal business. We must invite Him into the process.

    Psalm 139 talks about how God can search and know our hearts. (It would stand to reason that He is the one with the best perspective of our lives, and can reveal to us the issues that weigh us down and hold us back.) I've also found that God's Word is an excellent window into the soul. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that "the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." If you are wondering where to start on your journey of soul searching, then prayer and immersion in the Bible is ideal.

    I know I've been lugging stuff around for a while, and I'm used to it. If you've ever been hiking in the mountains, and you carry a backpack, after a while you don't really notice the weight. It's once that weight is lifted off that you suddenly feel so incredibly light, almost like your shoulders and back are floating!

    To make another analogy, if I want to get on the plane and enjoy the adventure that is to come, I must be willing to surrender my luggage and make it available for a security check. If you've traveled on a plane internationally lately, then you've noticed how obsessive the security for flights has become. First you must subject your baggage to an x-ray (and put yourself through a metal detector, after removing your shoes and belt and any other objective items). If the security personnel are feeling motivated, they will continue to examine your luggage by swishing a small piece of cloth through your purse, laptop bag and/or suitcase in search of incriminating scents that will be picked up by their fancy 'drug-and-bomb-busting-sensors'. If they still feel skeptical and dubious about your items, they will then subject them them to a hand-search, with no sense of respect to your neatly packed shirts, shorts and underwear that may be in your suitcase. I know they are just doing their job, but it certainly does emphasize my point. It is not easy or comfortable to become vulnerable, and to subject yourself to a baggage search. But holding onto questionable things (or thoughts and emotions) may delay or even prevent your departure to a better place.

    So what I'm trying to convey is that the process is uncomfortable but necessary. If you truly desire for your relationship with others and most of all your relationship with God to be better... then it is vital to strip away the unnecessary, hindering and afflicting baggage that weighs you down. Unfortunately, we must become brutally honest with ourselves to examine our hearts and face the issues which hold us back.

    I am in a place where I refuse to continue to be the same person whom I've been for much of my marriage (and, let's face it, for half my life). It's time for change and I feel God's finger pointing at areas of my life which I've kept under wraps for so long. I won't allow myself to be weighed down any more. I've got my ticket in hand and I'll do whatever it takes to get on the flight. No more junk. No more suitcases filled with misconceptions and cumbersome emotional issues. I'm streamlining and only have room in my carry-on bag for the things in life that matter most.

    Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23,24)

    Final boarding call... I'm here and I'll do whatever it takes to not miss this flight.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    The Incredible Journey (and the luggage required)

    Preparing a family for an overseas move is pivotal, emotional and in many ways, life changing. Five and a half years ago, our then "little" family consisting of only 3 young children made the move to live in Asia for a school year.

    First we had to deal with the issue of storage - what to keep and what to sell, give away or throw away. We would only have a small amount of storage while we were away, and to be honest, we had no clue if or when we would return to Canada. I learned a lot about myself as I pared down our belongings to just a few dozen boxes, many consisting of kitchen paraphernalia and photo albums. It opened my eyes to what really matters in life - and that so much of what we hold onto and try to acquire is just "stuff".

    Then, as our travel date drew closer, I was trapped in a paranoid frenzy of activity; feeling completely ill-equipped with the ability to pack all the necessary items for our family's journey (and did I mention that I was now 4 months pregnant?).

    When our journey of epic proportions at long last arrived, we were outnumbered by suitcases and backpacks. We made the most of the lax (compared to today's stringent standards) rules of how much baggage each paying passenger could bring on the trans-Pacific flight. Somehow, when our 6am check-in time began in Calgary where we departed, we managed to maneuver our 3 small children, 8 suitcases and 4 carry-on bags through the lines and past security. We were on our way!

    There was a sigh of relief when we completed the first leg of our trip and arrived at LAX. The airport was teeming with a colorful kaleidoscope of people, speaking languages from all over the globe. We grabbed a quick bite to eat - neither breakfast nor lunch, for we were already jet-lagged and disoriented from our 4am rising and precious little sleep the night before from the sense of anticipation and panic over the idea of missing our flight.

    Soon enough, it was time to line up for the international security check before boarding our flight to Asia. Something was wrong though. The doors leading through to security were blocked off, and a speedily growing chain of travelers was snaking through the cavernous room full of airline ticket booths and small shopping nooks. We knew we had to get through the customs and security doors in order to check-in for our flight, so we begrudgingly lined up behind a hundred or more other passengers. Whispers of a security threat soon made their way back to us, and we began to fret, wondering if we would indeed make this momentous flight!

    At long last, the line began to move - with a speed that challenged our laden down family that now consisted of tiring, grumpy little children! We had a couple trolleys loaded with our luggage, but as soon as we arrived at the security doors, we were condescendingly informed that we must leave the trolleys behind, and physically transport our suitcases, carry-on and children through the switchback line-up to security without any further mechanical assistance! My husband, ever the dependable, determined and assertive type, creatively managed to load himself up like a pack-mule with 2 suitcases on his back while pulling 3 of the other suitcases. We put backpacks on our oldest kids (who were 3 and 5, respectively) and also instructed them to pull their little suitcases (the mini-sized ones that they make for kids with cartoon characters on them). I was loaded with our toddler in a backpack on my back, and several suitcases being pulled with both hands, along with another carry-on back-pack hanging in the crook of my elbow (and, of course the balancing effect of my 4 1/2 month pregnant belly in the front!) Really, as I look back to that day and try to procure the memory of that specific event, I'm not exactly sure how we managed to transport so many items through that 200 meter stretch!

    At one point, the line ahead of us had broken far ahead of us, and there was now a large gap between us and the other passengers going through security. It seemed like a daunting task, just to reach the security personnel, and now we were holding up other travellers as we hobbled along, trying in vain to verbally quicken our children with their own heavy loads while we were loaded down nearly beyond our capabilities. I remember catching the wheel of a suitcase as I made a hairpin turn in the switchback, and it made the suitcase wobble off balance so it was twisted backwards. I was exasperated and sweaty, and nearly in tears and my husband was now quite a distance ahead of me! Our daughter was quickly catching up to her daddy, and I managed to right the suitcase and get back on track amid the huffs and grumbling of disgruntled passengers behind me. I took off at breakneck speed (or at least at a tortoises' pace) and tried to catch up. Suddenly I realized I had a little son behind me, and I saw my poor little guy struggling with his bags. "Let's go, Ethan!!!" I exclaimed in frustration.

    He was doing his best, but at that moment, one of the nicest security guards I have ever seen in this lifetime let out an encouraging cheer to my wee almost-four-year-old. "Come on, Ethan! You can do it!" he belted out with a big smile. Ethan moved his little legs as quickly as he could and caught up to the rest of the family.

    Well, we made it through security, and proceeded to our 14 hour flight across the ocean on a trip of a lifetime. I look back at that scurrying and panic with a smile because of one man's kind encouragement that quickened the steps of my child and brightened my day.

    When I started thinking about this post, my thoughts were focused on the idea of baggage and the stuff we carry around in life. The way my family travelled to Thailand a few years ago was not the ideal travelling situation, although we made it work. Nowadays, with the stringent flight restrictions, if you can travel with just a carry-on bag, most people will do so to avoid hassle and extra costs. Obviously, the incredible amount of endurance and ingenuity that it took for us to transport our family is not easy or without challenges!

    As we travel through our lives, we all carry a certain amount of baggage. Sometimes memories afford us a sense of comfort and satisfaction, and give us meaning as we embark on life's journey. Other times, the excess baggage holds us back, weighs us down and threatens our ability to meet life's challenges and see the amazing destinations we would like to reach.

    I wanted to introduce the image of baggage in life as I begin this next series of blogs. I feel like God has been speaking to me about letting go of some things in my life, so I can better reach for the future.

    Philippians 3:13 talks about "forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead." As we walk through life, we collect many ideas, mindsets and memories which affect the way we think, feel and interact with others. I feel like I am coming into a season of letting go, and I am prayerfully considering how to let go of the baggage that weighs me down.

    One last thought, and a preview of what I will be sharing on a little more in the next couple of blogs - Isaiah 43:18, 19 gives us these instructions:

    "Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert.

    Welcome to my journey... I hope you'll join me in seeking God for something new!

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Learning to Love

    I recently heard a question that unnerved me and disrupted my narrow-minded, cloudy, numb-to-reality view of myself.

    The guest speaker (I'm not certain who, but it was broadcasted on Focus on the Family) posed this question, that is intended to be self-directed:

    What is it like to be married to me?

    Uhh.... can I take a few minutes to think about this one? Maybe I should actually get back to you in a week or so, then I will be able to rate myself on my more recent, adjusted performance in this area!

    It's very easy to think about the stuff we do, and rate ourselves based on what WE think is good in terms of our relationships with others.

    It is a sobering thought to judge ourselves in a way that considers how our actions are perceived by those around us, rather than simply judging ourselves based on our own opinions. How does my husband actually feel about how I treat him? Additionally, how do my children, family and friends feel about how I treat them? By asking myself these questions, I am seeking to view things from a perspective outside my own little bubble.

    Have you ever heard of "love languages"? This is a term coined by the author Dr. Gary Chapman in his book "The Five Love Languages". Designed to assist a married couple in determining the best way to make their spouse feel loved, and to understand the specific actions that make oneself feel loved, this book is a great resource for enhancing relationships. Essentially, people respond to different behaviors and certain actions: touch, words, kind deeds, gifts and quality time will affect you to varying degrees. One woman may adore receiving roses and chocolate, while another feels loved when her husband simply sits down and spends quality time with her. The key is to understand what makes you and your spouse feel loved, so you can "speak" their language and avoid unnecessary frustration.

    It's very easy to do what comes naturally. This may seem like a ridiculous statement, but I have to wonder how often my actions are based on what feels "normal" to me, and not based out of consideration for others.

    I don't want to go through life self-centered. This isn't to say that we need to be constantly worried about how we appear to others, and to have a fear of what others think of us. This is more about doing our best to show love and care. When you consider the effect that your words and actions have on those around you, when you try to see things through another person's eyes - you are then showing true, unselfish love. This is a generous love that will give without expecting something in return. This is the kind of love that is sacrificial and whole-hearted.

    Just some brutal honesty here... but I really want to love like that. I might not be very good at it now, but I want to change. I will probably continue to make a lot of mistakes in this journey, but I'm praying earnestly that this area of my life will transform, and that those close to me will feel more loved.

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Keeping the Dogs Fenced In

    Disclaimer: I am going to offend some of you with my dislike of small dogs. Please forgive me this one time and try to keep an open mind to my bias, for illustrative purposes.

    I have a strong distaste for little dogs. To me they are yappy, unpredictable, nippy, excitable and often exhibit a frenetic disposition which I detest. Give me a Great Dane, Retriever, Collie or even a Pit Bull and I'm happy - it's those little yippy Terriers and Shih Tzus that put me on edge. Yes, I had a bad experience being chased by a hyper, territorial, curly haired little devil when I was a child so I agree that I am biased. But my feelings about small dogs lend well to the point I'd like to illustrate today in my blog, so I'll ere to the side of my feelings about dogs and carry on with my thoughts for today.

    I went for a run outside on Tuesday, and it was exceptionally nice to be outdoors in the fresh Spring air (crossing my fingers that Spring is actually here to stay!). I was in one of the newer neighborhoods in the city, the kind that has houses backing along a greenspace, with short chain-linked fences overlooking a pretty pond and wetland. There is a pathway all around the lake - so you end up running in between these people's yards and the pond and grassy hills. I came around a bend in the pathway, and suddenly heard the sound of barking. It was the kind of sound that catches you off guard and makes you jump a little, in anticipation of a potential threat. Then I saw them! There were two little terriers with their curly white hair, beady little black eyes and sharp teeth. They raced along the fence as I ran past, jumping and barking and snarling and being a general nuisance. However, to their credit, they were doing their best to defend their territory!

    Once I realized that there was no real threat, just noise and the theatrical appearance of little dogs trying to get at me, I gave a scoffing look over my shoulder and raced away, down the path. I went back to enjoying the sights and sounds of spring - melting snow, birds chirping and the famous Lethbridge wind that was at this point increasing my speed with it's forceful push against my back! I forgot all about the dogs and began to make another loop around the lake when I was startled once again by their incessant barking! I glared at them for a second as I ran past, only slightly annoyed but not deterred from enjoying my run.

    I've noticed that worry is like a little dog in a fenced yard. (See! Here's where I tie it all together, and you forgive me for hating little dogs because of the interesting point I have to make!) Anyway... back to the worry: It seems that you can be cruising through life and certain things pop up at you, with their loud, aggressive voices, trying to get your attention and frighten you. Most of worry's power is in its voice - it is the idea, the feeling, the mulling over of certain thoughts that make you feel weak in the knees.

    Worry is something that is repetitive and often more about the "bark" than the bite. Whatever it is that you worry about - money, your kids, your health - it feels very real and concerning. The fears can tumble around in your mind with a great ability to distract. The more you focus on the worry, the more powerful it can become in your mind, and the more crippling to your perspective and ability to successfully maneuver in your daily activities.

    What I have learned, however, is that you have to fence in the worry. Those little dogs may have represented little terrors in my mind - I could already see myself trying to run away, with them nipping and biting at my heels! Then, I would turn and face them, knowing that I had about 100 pounds on them and I should be able to stand my ground. Then I would resort to kicking, hoping that they didn't latch their ravenous little mouths onto my ankles..... Oh, ya... there was fence to protect me!

    I have found that no matter how loudly our worries and concerns can blare at us, there is something to guard your heart and mind.

    Philippians 4:7 says: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

    When I am worried and fretting about things in my life, I quickly have to step back and consider whether or not I am allowing the peace of God to guard my heart and mind. If I am taking all the responsibility onto myself as to whether or not I'll be safe, whether my family will be safe, whether we'll have enough money and whether the Mayan calendar is correct and the world is going to end on December 21, 2012.... if I let those things pile up in my mind and become fears and worries to hold onto - then I am not trusting God. Trusting God doesn't mean that those issues are ignored, but just like the little dogs behind the fence, the peace that God gives can reign in those fears and worries so you can carry on with your life.

    One of the best things about God's kind of peace is that it surpasses all understanding. This means, that even when things don't make sense, you can still be at peace in your heart. We often give more power to thoughts and worries than we ought to and they develop an unreasonable force in our minds. When you reign in these thoughts by giving your fears to God, He offers a peace that keeps the "worry dogs" under control. Prayer, and essentially telling God what is bothering me and asking for his help, makes all the difference in my life when it comes to worry and fear.

    With that, I will end my rant on small dogs. If you have a small dog whom you love dearly, please don't take offense. I will probably never get along with small dogs, but at least God has used them to teach me a lesson!