Friday, July 29, 2011


I have always wanted to run away from home.

I'm serious!  Almost as far back as I can remember, there were plans made, partially carried out, but never totally completed as I sought to run away.

I remember when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and I was fed up with living in a city and seeing my dad work long, hard hours all the time.  I didn't have the freedom to run wild in wide open spaces, and I figured I should run away and live in the woods somewhere.  I believe I had just finished reading "My Side Of The Mountain" by Jean Craighead George, in which a young boy leaves his city life, runs away and "lives off the land" by himself for many months.  At any rate, I was convinced that my life would be so much better, and that I wouldn't have to deal with people who didn't like me or didn't understand me, if I could just be one with nature.  I packed a backpack, stuffing in a blanket and pillow and a few articles of clothing, and started the trek down to the corner of my block.

Once I reached the crossroads (at the end of my block) - the place where I would have to decide North or South; left or right, I paused and began to consider my "running away idea" a bit further.  For one thing, the weather wasn't the greatest at the time.  Also, supper was in an hour, and I was hungry.  I made some halting steps forward, attempting to plunge into my new life of "wilderness girl", then I would reconsider and turn back towards home -  until, finally my appetite and reasoning took over and I sheepishly sneaked my things back into the house and gave up on the idea altogether - for the time being.

By the time I was 12 or 13, and filled with teenage angst, feeling that my parents "sucked" and didn't understand anything (ha ha... now I'm the parent, and I see things a little more clearly!) I began to plot my escape from home once again.  This time, a friend and I planned to run away together.  We made our elaborate escape plan, talking of how we'd jump onto a Greyhound bus, and go to Vancouver, where her dad lived.  Everything would be better there - we could have brand new lives and be whoever we wanted to be.  Life would be one big party.  Time and time again, we devised our perfect get-a-way; how I would tell my parents that I was sleeping over at her house, and she would tell her parents that she was at mine- then we would escape!  Somehow, we (thankfully) never had the guts nor the money to go through with the plan, and although something in me desperately yet foolishly desired to run away, I didn't follow through.

A couple years later, when I was 15, the plot thickened.  I was on a church youth mission trip to England and Scotland, and I was still a mixed up, misunderstood teenager who just wanted to get away.  While it was a relief to be so far from home, in a foreign land where everyone spoke with charming accents, I dreaded returning to my life back in Canada.

We were waiting for a train -  piles of baggage spread out in the terminal, with tired teens stretched out; some snoozing with their heads resting on their backpacks.  I remember eating a delicious peanut butter-chocolate ice cream bar, and gazing out at the enormous trees in the distance and the gorgeous brick and stone buildings.  And I thought to myself:  I could just walk away right now.  I'll just take my backpack, pretend to head towards the loo (bathroom) and I'll disappear.

Really, one of the only things that held me back was the idea of just how much trouble my youth leaders would be in once it was found out that I was gone.  I wasn't so self-centered to think that my actions wouldn't result in consequences beyond myself, and I didn't relish the thought of these innocent youth leaders being torn apart by my dad (with his bare hands).  So I couldn't go through with the escape.  After another few days of adventure, I was homeward bound - back to my world, my life... back to me.

Somehow, I grew up a little, matured a little and adjusted to my life.  Instead of running away from home, I began to go for jogs and would run away - even just for an hour or so.

Eventually, I was "grown up" and in my first year of Bible College and I met a guy.  Well, I didn't meet him there - in fact, I'd already known him for a few years, but I suddenly saw him with new eyes.  So the dating began, and the intimate conversations and opening up my heart - learning to trust.  One weekend, he took me home to meet his family.  By this point we were quite "serious" and knew that this was no ordinary friendship, but one destined to be life-long.  Amid the noise and laughter and chaotic abundance of family, I felt small and intimidated.  His family was larger than mine, and having 3 boys in the family (and one older sister) caused plenty of ruckus and activity.  After a rather loud family dinner, we sought to get away and have some time to ourselves, and I think my sweet boyfriend wondered what had made me so moody.  We went for a walk on the quiet streets of his sleepy home-town, and I told him how overwhelmed and intimidated I felt.  Something inside me felt scared - scared of this bursting forth of emotions and conversation that flowed easily, without hesitation.  My family wasn't really like that.  We were quiet, civilized, reserved.  We didn't have yelling matches (camouflaged as friendly debates) at our dinner table.

And then, I played the "immature girl" card and I ran.  I took off from my befuddled boyfriend, legs stretching and feet rhythmically pounding on the bumpy, semi-rural road as I tried to escape something... attempting to run from the feeling of  vulnerability that accused and intimidated me.

The very one who I should have trusted the most, said that my actions scared him - suddenly I was like a skittish colt - wild, terrified and on the run.  When I finally settled my tumultuous emotions, I turned around and headed back to the one who wanted to understand me and care for me.  I found him: walking the streets searching for me, and praying for me.  He held me close and made me promise to never run away from him again.

When I married my best friend, 10 months later, I promised to stay with him forever, and I put my running shoes away (for a while).

Still, occasionally I have the fleeting thought to run away from my life.  I might be simply headed out on a grocery trip, the kids left at home with their dad, and me - alone for the moment; away from the needy, away from the weight of responsibilities.  Something will pop into my head and say:  Just take off!  Grab some cash from the ATM and disappear!  RUN!!!

But I don't.  I know better.  I know that I can run as far and as long as I want, but I will always have myself to contend with.  I now know that this "runaway" tendency comes from within and not from my circumstances.

This runaway heart has been seeking contentment for a long time.  I've learned that contentment isn't found in the car you drive, the neighborhood you live in, the body-type you struggle to maintain (or attain) and it isn't even found within any human relationship - because people just can't meet all your needs; they can't be your savior no matter how badly you may want them to be that in your life.

Who can whisper calm and quiet into my racing heart?  Who can vanquish the whirlwind of fear and discontent that threatens to drown me time and time again?  Who can stop me from thinking that the only answer is to run away?

Ironically, I have been finding the answers when I run.  No, I'm not running away anymore, rather I'm running to:  I run to escape my worries, and to find the calm of Almighty God's presence.  I run to find quiet in my soul.  I run to simply be set apart from my thoughts, my selfishness and my puny perspective - to find peace, sanctity and refuge.

I run for dear life to God, I'll never live to regret it.  Do what you do so well: get me out of this mess and up on my feet. Put your ear to the ground and listen, give me space for salvation.  Be a guest room where I can retreat; you said your door was always open! You're my salvation - my vast, granite fortress    -Psalm 71:1-3 The Message

Something inside me will always be a runaway.  But now I run with purpose; I always return home, and I never come back feeling the same as when I left.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How To Yield

I like "yield" signs.

The purpose of a yield sign, is that you slow down at an intersection, take note of what is or is not coming your way, and proceed accordingly.  Stop signs don't let you do that.  Four way stop signs are even worse - especially when it appears that two of you have arrived at opposing intersections at the same time, and you scramble to remember the rule of who gets to go first.  Then it gets awkward because the elderly lady has the right of way, but she's gesturing with her thumb for you to get going; get out of the way... and the guy behind you honks, and you sheepishly drive through, thinking "whatever..."  So, ya, I'd rather deal with a yield.

Yield, as defined by the World English Dictionary, in the form that I am referring to means:

to give way, submit, or surrender, as through force or persuasion: she yielded to his superior knowledge

When I think of the idea of yielding, I find that I am cautioned to slow down, take stock of what is around and THEN proceed.  In the same way we apply this idea to driving, I can apply this to my daily routine and how I interact with my world.

I've been reading about "slowing down" in my new book One Thousand Gifts (Ann Voskamp), and I have to admit, it's an idea that I've been frightfully needful of for the past couple of years.  Suddenly life overtakes you - and you're no longer waiting:

waiting to grow up,
waiting to meet SOMEONE,
waiting for marriage,
waiting to have kids and to build a home and family,
waiting for the kids to grow up...

and you realize, in a camera flash, that you are THERE.  And it's like you've been steamrolled by all the daily trappings, all the requirements, and all the responsibilities.

It's not that I don't like my life - but if all your time is spent 'trying to catch up' and it feels like your life is a galloping mustang; a wild ride, but quite out of control - then it is really hard to NOTICE what you have right in front of you.  I've often been guilty of that sin - the "always thinking of what is coming up and not noticing today" sin.  Even when I should be relaxed, rested, and enjoying special time with my kids or hubby, my mind races ahead and thinks... in a few hours I'll have to do this... in a couple days I have an appointment... next week will be especially busy because of that.... Then I am back in the present, fretting and wanting to get up and I do not notice the wonder and the blessing that I have RIGHT NOW.

If only I would yield to the present.  As I "drive along" my life, in all the activities and interactions, I must learn to slow down, take notice of my surroundings and proceed accordingly.  Busy, hurried people generally have trouble being grateful.  Busied, hurried people often lack joy.  Again, these are two of the issues I've pinpointed recently which I want to change.

When I was at the dentist last week, and I was wide-eyed, frightfully open-mouthed, waiting for the work to be done on my tooth (and wishing that it would be over), the dentist told me to concentrate on breathing through my nose.  I wondered what that was all about, yet I went ahead and did it, thinking that maybe it wouldn't be good for me to inhale some of the compounds they were using on my tooth.  Whatever the reasoning, it occurred to me a bit later that I was MUCH calmer.  The agony has lessened a great degree and I wasn't feeling nearly as panicked as before.  The next day, it popped into my head that he may have told me to breathe through my nose simply as a calming exercise to prevent patients from hyperventilating and freaking out in such a vulnerable position as you hear the sounds of drilling and feel the vibrations gyrating into your brain.

It is only when we slow down enough to take a deep breath, that it seems we can truly SEE the world around us.  Deep breaths also serve to calm us, preventing us from saying things we shouldn't say and from doing things we shouldn't do.

Slowing down to observe the blessings of NOW, and being thankful for today, also serves to circumvent the issue of worry in our lives.  If I live in a place of wide-eyed wonder, pausing long enough to fully observe the beauty of each moment - whether it is the way my toddler belly-laughs with his whole being; or the glorious sight of coffee beans dancing in the grinder, letting off an intoxicating scent; or the fantastic sight of the sky lit up with lightning streaks... if I would just take the time to notice these things and not be so preoccupied with tomorrow or even today's problems, life would seem a lot more precious and merry.

I feel it worthwhile to add that this, the idea of counting or observing your blessings, isn't always easy to do.  Sometimes life is truly clouded by circumstances, hurts and questions that leave us despairing, faithless and frustrated.  This is what makes the following words spoken by Paul so interesting to me, from Philippians 4:6,7 (The Message): 
Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. 
He says to "let petitions AND praises shape your worries into prayers" (emphasis mine).  It seems that our problems, spoken out to God will transform into an effective prayer when we are able to take our eyes off of ourselves, and notice God's power. When we lift our heads up out of the dust, looking up at who He is, peace will unfold in our hearts.

Yielding means that I don't just careen through life, taking the chance that I may plow through an intersection and cause damage to myself and others along the way because of my RUSHING and HURRYING.  It means I may look a little more like a "Sunday driver"; driving slowly down the road (well under the speed limit) as I observe the neighbor's yard, see who is out on the town, and enjoy the breeze on my face with the windows rolled down.

The "Yield" sign reminds me to slow down and take a deep breath.  Is there something I'm missing?  Is there a conversation waiting to start?  Do I just need to calm down enough to really see the blessings around me, instead of blindly accelerating through my life?

Yield.  Give way.  Surrender.  Capture every moment and see the blessings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My New Book (and My New Revelation)


The brown cardboard package encapsulating a book that I was sure to treasure was hand delivered to my bedroom by one of the kids yesterday.  I tore it open, wondering for a second if it was actually a book that my husband had ordered, but it was indeed what I hoped for.

Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts" looked up at me, with crisp pages and a pretty nest of robin's eggs on the cover, and "a dare to LIVE FULLY right where you are".

Isn't that what I struggle with, day after day?  It's no secret, and I'm sure my writing has occasionally hinted to this empty ache, this haunting desperation that I struggle with from time to time.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm simply battling depression, like I did when I was a hormonal, off-balance teenager.  Sometimes I just wonder if I'm crazy... having loaded myself up with a life that is so busy, so demanding and weighty with responsibility.

Yet, within the struggle, I know that my path has been God-ordained despite the many ups and downs; the tumultuous emotions, the mountainous treks that leave my feet sore and bleeding and my lungs gasping for another breath.  And there are times where I actually SEE... I look across the vast landscape from a temporary high place, and I am amazed at the journey and I relish the glory of God that has been revealed in my simple, complicated life: babies born, a passionate but deeply rooted man for my husband, the gift of many companions, and the list goes on.

But most days, I admit, it's dry.  I don't leap out of bed with joyous expectation for the treasures that the day will hold.  I don't rejoice and declare "This is the day that the Lord has made" - in fact, I hardly acknowledge that the day even belongs to HIM.

So I've been eagerly waiting for this book - for someone with a kindred heart to speak to me, minister to me, nurse my wounds and lead me into a better viewpoint.  The author is much like me:  a blogger, and a homeschooling mother of six.  Somehow she has grasped onto enough hope and learned to convey, with wisdom, the story of her journey to a joyful life.

I hungrily gobbled up the first couple of chapters last night, once the children were quietly tucked into bed.  As her poetry and the gently rolling rhythm of her words washed over my soul, conviction pricked at the dark places in my heart.

I'm no dummy.  Very quickly I saw the theme and the crux of her message as she painstakingly shared bits and pieces of her life-story, and the revelation that the Holy Spirit weaved into her searching heart.

This isn't actually a true book review, as I've only read the first three chapters, but I will touch on the lessons I've learned thus far.

The longing, searching and quest for "more" is as timeless as the Garden of Eden.  By ingratitude, Eve forsook God's rule and reached for something "more".  Turning her back on all the blessing, all the fellowship, she just HAD TO TASTE; had to question God's goodness and reach beyond her already abundant living.  The cycle continues.  We test limits, reaching out beyond our normal lives, perceiving that if we could just have MORE, we will be truly happy.

My life nods in agreement to this idea.  I have so much, and yet everyday I catch myself whining and pining over what my life is not, and what I feel I lack.  I think: "if only my house was bigger...", "if I had a nanny", "if we had more money", "if we lived in Hawai'i", "if only... if only..."  And even when I receive unexpected blessings in my current existence, I still wonder what life would be like on the other side of the fence - and maybe we should be missionaries in a far away country, or better yet, we should just be rich and live somewhere foreign and beautiful; then... THEN I would be content.  Then I would be happy.

And I know it's not true.

By Chapters 2 and 3, the answers are outlined and I regretfully must agree to the clear truths supported by scripture; supported by Jesus' life here on earth.  I know I want joy.  The truth is,  joy goes hand in hand with GRATITUDE.  You can't have one without the other.

I want a happy pill.  I want everything to seem bright and shiny and wonderful - but I don't want to put the effort into my own behavior to become that joyful person.  Sometimes I excuse myself, saying that it's merely a personality issue - some people are bubbly, and some are... flat... mellow... blah...  That's who I am - I can't be responsible for my God-given personality, can I?

Still, the truth rings clear as Ann Voskamp weaves deliciously, exquisite prose that beckons the reader without condemnation, inviting you to embrace the truth in your heart.  With a bird's eye view, I watch the transformation taking place in her life as she speaks of thanksgiving (eucharisteo) and explains it's necessity in our day to day living.  Daily practice of thankfulness, expressed by the author in writing a list of one thousand gifts, develops the practice of praise; revealing and replenishing joy in one's heart.

If I was more thankful; if I could see the good in things and count my blessings instead of the "curses" - I'm certain my life would change.

Have you ever seen a happy person who complains all the time?  A bitter person with an easy smile and bubbling laughter?  It just doesn't exist.  Yet I envy my joyous friends, thinking that they've been granted an attribute or perhaps a personality trait which I do not have.

I can't live there anymore.  I'm packing up my camp, and ready to move on.  It isn't likely that this will be an easy task, but the pursuit of grateful living beckons me with a promise of sunnier skies, rainbows after the rain and joy in the journey.

That, in essence is my response to the first 3 chapters of my newest book.
So, to get the ball rolling, I'll begin to practice (and chronicle) thankfulness right now:

Gift #1.  Revelation of my need to be thankful.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bad Golf and A Radio Interview

Yesterday, my husband called me up from work and the first thing he said was: "Do you want to be famous?"

"NO!"  I instantly replied.

I heard him chuckling on the other end of the line, and my mind was racing and fitting puzzle pieces together, trying to guess what sort of plight he had roped me into.  Soon enough, he revealed that there was a last-minute cancellation for our local Christian radio station's morning show, and they would like to interview me and hear about the Cartons 4 Kids project I'm working on for India.

If it was anything else.... I may have just skipped the publicity all together.  I'm not keen on having to talk cleverly and clearly in front of an audience (albeit an invisible one), especially first thing in the morning!  However, this was for such a good cause; something so close to my heart - a project that I had birthed and wanted to see succeed.  As they say "it's for the kids" and not just regular kids, but children who live in a slum!  I agreed to do the interview, not without some fear and trepidation in my heart.

Fortunately for me, I had little time to worry and fret about my "moment of fame", since we had a house full of company last night and I hardly had time to sit until it was time for bed.  Then, when everything was still, and I could hear my husband's gentle snores, and not a creature was stirring, not even one of the 8 children that live in our house.... I could not sleep.

I tossed and turned and my efforts to get comfortable were in vain.  Every now and then, I'd roll over and, with disdain, note the time on my clock - the red numbers glaring at me accusingly as I evaded rest.  I rehearsed my thoughts for the radio interview out loud, whispering to myself and trying to make everything sound clear and professional.  Finally.... the nerves settled and I drifted off... to sleep...

Of course, I began to dream about my interview; and in my dream, I forgot my notes and was frantically wondering if we should drive home and get them - but then we'd be late and miss it entirely!  Then I heard the whiny, half-hearted cry of my toddler, and I wondered why we had brought him to the radio station.  How would I concentrate on the interview?  There was no way he'd stay quiet!  Then I was back in my bed, the sheet twisted around my legs, and one of my feet was cold, having slipped out from under the covers.  I was in my room, it was 6 am, and my toddler really was crying.

I comforted him for a few minutes and climbed back into bed.  This time sleep came easily, and I was mostly concerned about not being groggy in a couple hours when I did the interview for real!

Of course, Murphey's Law kicked in and I was woken up a half hour before my alarm was due to go off, thanks to my 3 year old.  I got him re-settled, then crawled back into bed and tried to doze a little before "go-time".

The actual experience of doing a radio interview wasn't so bad.   We made it on time, and I did remember to bring my notes.  One friend advised that I merely talk to the announcer, not to my city.  That made sense and I tried to ignore the big orange-muff covered mike in front of my face, and concentrate on the friendly gentleman in front of me, instead.  Although I had been sipping on coffee, my mouth felt strangely dry, like it had been swabbed with cotton balls.  Yet I managed to get my point across, and I don't' think I missed any important details.  Ten minutes was over before I knew it, and suddenly I was picking up my notes, and walking out the door with my husband.

It's amazing how adaptable one becomes in a moment of necessity.  I could have asked my husband (you know, the preacher who stands in front of a large crowd week after week, spouting revelation and wisdom to us with wit and conviction) to do most of the talking, but I knew that I was the one who had the facts and the passion to propel this mission.  So I stretched out of my comfort zone, and rose up to the challenge.

What I think is weird, is how you almost feel like you're being a different person when you do something new and unexpected.  In a way, it almost feels like you're being "fake" because your actions feel so out of character.  Yet, if I always relied on my feelings about what I was going to do, then I probably wouldn't be married, wouldn't have kids, and wouldn't be very happy!

The other night, a group of us went mini-golfing.  It was loads of fun, only I'm quite a terrible golfer.  Try as he might, in the past my husband attempted to instruct me on a proper swing, but I just ended up getting frustrated and it didn't seem to work!  This time, I noticed he didn't give any advice (maybe he'd given up on me) and I just tried to golf in my own crazy-misfit way.  I found it awkward, however, to be doing something that I wasn't good at.  I'm used to working hard, and seeing my efforts be rewarded with "being good at most anything".  I am usually successful at what I do (although I admit there are a few things I choose not to do, because I know I would suck!).

In light of my clumsy golf skills, I spent the evening making a bit of a spectacle of myself, swinging wildly and landing the ball in the stream that ran through the course not once, but twice!  The only way I could avoid being terribly frustrated and wallowing in self-pity about my inability, was to laugh.  Laughter and all-around goofiness was a far better response than anger and embarrassment, I thought.

So, over the course of the last week, I've encountered situations that required me to tackle what could have been perceived as awkward situations.  What is the secret?  Well, to be honest, the only thing I recommend is that you perceive life as one big adventure and seek out the joy in that adventure.  I dare not live a life of fear and regret.  What is first considered a challenge can potentially become a skill or success.  Although it may seem out of character, and feel uncomfortable at first, I feel it is better to look at life with a reasonable sense of logic.  Many times we say "no" because we fear humiliation or failure.  What we often don't realize is that firstly, it is important not to take yourself so seriously.  Also, you must not forget that those who love you and are committed to you won't leave you forsaken!  My husband sat in a chair beside me throughout my whole interview this morning - not because he felt I was incompetent to complete this task, but because he believed in me and wanted to support me.

I might not really improve my golf swing in the near future - but I'll keep laughing as I play.  I'm also (sort of) looking forward to the next challenge that pops up - my knees might be knocking together, but I'm ready!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eat Your Veggies, It's For Your Own Good!

It's a familiar sight.  There's almost always one child at my table who didn't like the evening's dinner selection and is agonizingly working at their little pile of veggies or potatoes... or whatever it is that they don't like!

Some of the older kids have become better at putting up with food they don't favor; learning to plug their nose, take a large bite and gulp it down with a swallow of milk.  Thankfully, my children are not very picky eaters.  We've always had a very eclectic dinner table, influenced by our fascination with other cultures and our traveling (past, and future travel plans).  As a family we eat everything from Kim-Chi to Som Tum (unripe papaya salad) to spiced lentil stews, and if you want to eat, you must eat whatever you have been served.

The other night, one of my younger kids was stuck at the table, slowly working away at her mixed vegetables (what could be so bad about that?) when all the other kids were running around outside, enjoying their ice cream for dessert.  The whole process seemed to exhaust her... and it's amazing how eating just a few peas, beans, carrots and corn can cause tears to flow and bad attitudes to flare!

Why must a child eat their veggies before consuming dessert?  I believe most adults would agree with me that it is a reasonable conquest.  We want our kids to firstly grow up healthy and strong and consume a variety of nutrients that are required to assist their immune system.  Secondly, to me, it is important that my kids are exposed to a variety of flavors and "learn to like" the foods that are especially good for them.  Lastly, I would prefer that my children can willingly gulp down whatever they are served - be it in my own home, or in the home of a friend!

So ultimately, what I ask of my child is for her benefit.  I'm not trying to be mean and punish her.  I don't give her unreasonable amounts of "healthy foods" which she doesn't like.  I don't feed her turnips and rutabaga and collard greens all the time - but give her a variety of what I would consider some of the tastier veggies!

I can think of many other requirements which I place upon my children for their own good.  Some would include: a reasonable bedtime, learning to read and write, learning manners and good communication skills, and even the occasional bath or shower.  Speaking of showers, I also realized I have to make it a requirement to put on clean underwear afterwards, since having a 9 year old son has shown me that they just don't see that as a necessity.  (Unbelievable, I know!!!)

So I expect I will live through another decade or so of grumbling, as I encourage my children in some basic skills and characteristics until they plunge into adulthood and are "on their own".  I wish they could see it from my perspective; especially since it is frustrating and aggravating to have to constant beseech my children to do things that are for their own good.

I was spending some time reading the passage from our church service last Sunday, and found myself opening my eyes to a new burst of revelation concerning God's character towards his children.  First, let's take a look at the verses:

Mark 2:23-28
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"  He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."  Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

One thing I think is so great, is that I love how Jesus always points out things to the stuffy, religious people with either questions or witty, puzzling remarks.  It's as though He turns the issue back onto those who feel they are so "studied" and forces their hand, making it an issue of the heart and not of the head.

What really spoke to me though, was the idea that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."  I've pondered the idea of Rest and Sabbath in previous blogs, and discovered how a Sabbath Day, by design, is meant to replenish and give time for communion with God and each other. (Communion, being defined as: association; fellowship and an exchange of thoughts, emotions, etc)

Basically, Jesus was confirming the idea that Sabbath wasn't a day made up by God so that He could garner our worship and force us to grovel at His feet, with extra time and consideration because of the certain day of the week.  He didn't make a Sabbath day so He could puff himself up and make us all feel guilty, like we should "act more holy" on this day, above all others.

Sabbath was made for our own good.  It was made for us to slow down and focus on what really matters in life, setting aside our work and obligations. This got me really thinking:  What are the obligations which we take upon ourselves that shouldn't be viewed as obligations, but something designed for us and intended to bless us?

It is so typical for us to take the wrong perspective, and in the same way that children react to their parent's expectations, we only see the work we have to do NOW, having little ability to visualize the future benefits of today's actions. I know that there is a lot of stuff that would be beneficial for me to do as a Christian, but I often feel grudging about it, and lack long-term perspective.  Most of all, I lack the perspective that God is asking me, not because He's GOD and He "says so", but because He loves me, and what He asks is for my benefit.

Next time I figure that I "should" do something, I'm hoping to have a little more foresight to consider the "why" behind my tasks.  It takes maturity to have the right attitude and perspective towards what could be construed as "more work", recognizing the meaning and benefits behind it all.  It will take a lot more maturity on behalf of my kids to recognize the benefits of eating their vegetables.  One day, I hope they will see it from my perspective though... and the cycle will continue as they wrestle with their own children!

Now, just for laughs, and a little nostalgia....  (you can skip the video forward to 1:30 to find the song I want to share).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Facing Fear

My heart was pounding and my hands were clenched tightly together.  I was terrified.  I wanted to run away and I couldn't.  I wanted to hide and there was nowhere to go.

All week long I knew this moment was approaching, and my stomach was tied up in knots.  I felt nauseated at the thought of what was to come, and felt powerless to do anything about it.  Worst of all, it felt like it was my own dumb fault that I was in this predicament.

I shut my eyes tightly and tried to calm my breathing as the long, sharp needle made it's way towards my face, and straight into my mouth.  "Just a little pinch!" the young dentist warned me, cheerily.

I tried to think of other things and even resorted to counting the tiles on the ceiling as this young, 20-something, baby-faced dentist wielded sharp objects around my tender mouth.  He must have just graduated from dentistry school and I think I even saw a zit on his cheek!  What is this world coming to, where people younger than myself are considered "professionals" and able to preform intricate, invasive procedures on my sensitive mouth!

"I'm just going to use this instrument now, and it may wiggle a bit" he explained next, before drilling noisily into my back molars.

"Instrument!!!" I thought... "Well, that's a delicate way to put it.... when, in fact, you're about to scrape, scour, bore and jackhammer your way though my teeth!!!"

This whole procedure actually brought me back to my childhood, in a way.  I remembered hanging out in my dad's garage while he worked on one of his numerous vehicles.  He would often buy what others would consider a "junker" and fix it up; inside and out.  I remembered how he would work away, sanding and blasting the rusted out areas of the car's body.  The sound of metal being polished as the rusted areas were ground to bits was loud and almost terrifying.  It gave a high, whiny sounding squeal as dust and metal particles flew through the air.  My dad was always dressed in his blue coveralls, a baseball cap, protective goggles and one of those disposable painter's masks.  He would intently concentrate on his work, sometimes working past midnight in order to get the job done.  Sometimes my brother and I would watch him and "help", handing him tools from time to time, but mostly, I think he just wanted company.  Occasionally, as a helper, we'd get to join him for a late-night treat at McDonald's or Tim Horton's for a snack.

Anyway, back to my teeth... the whole image of my dad doing auto body work did nothing but erode my confidence in the procedure.  So I tried to concentrate on other things, but mostly, I was just anxious for it all to be over.  I was also feeling panicked about just how much this would cost.  My husband had told me that we no longer had any medical coverage, and I tried to prepare myself for the worst, thinking of the hundreds of dollars I'd likely have to lay down for this painful experience.

I was getting very tense again, so obviously, thinking about money was not the way to take my mind off of the situation.  I vainly turned my thoughts to the fluffy blue clouds in the sky, and tried to imagine our future summer vacation (where we'd be eating cornflakes and KD because my dental work was going to cost us a fortune!).

Somehow, I got through the procedure with only a few moments of gagging and choking on the cotton they stuffed into my mouth, alongside my tongue.  Next step: billing.

I sank into the seat, across from the perky administrator, and dejectedly pulled out my credit card.

Moments later, I was given a paper to sign, and told that since my plan covered 80% of my dental work, I only owed them forty dollars.  "My plan???"  I said, still mournful and yet quite puzzled.  "We're not supposed to have any coverage anymore."

"Well," the receptionist said, "I already put it through the system and it was approved.  Also, one of your fillings that we had to re-do was less than a year old, so it is under warranty and you don't have to pay for it."

I quickly signed my papers, paid the minuscule (compared to what I had expected) bill, and walked out to my vehicle, pleasantly stunned.  It felt like a miracle - what were the chances that our "supposed to be terminated coverage" was still covering us!?! Obviously someone had delayed shutting down the account and we were still recipients of dental benefits!  I was overjoyed, and all the worry and despair about money that I was previously dealing with, washed away.

Something about this whole experience reminded me of how we deal with and encounter painful issues in our hearts. First of all, the type of cavity I had was one that had perforated a hole in my tooth from the inside out.  Basically, (due partly to my wretched craving for sweets) a cavity was forming inside my tooth, just under the weak, barely damaged surface.  Eventually, the surface broke and a hole was revealed.  This is why the whole issue seemed to spring on me suddenly - I had no idea what was lurking beneath the surface of my weakened tooth - it just suddenly became ultra-sensitive and had a gaping hole in it.  The dentist had to work away at  the grime and decay before filling it up, and making it look almost as good as new.  Thank goodness for freezing that made the entire left side of my mouth, including my tongue, numb and feeling slightly swollen.  I hate to think of how back "in the olden days" people would just suffer a cavity until it finally was yanked out with pliers!

This made me think of how we sometimes have painful issues buried deep in our hearts.  We can avoid the pain and even exist for a long time without letting it really bother us or affect us in our daily lives.  Given enough time, however, these problems tend to fester and grow and eventually cause lasting damage that needs a solution and repair.  I began to think about some of the areas in my heart that I tend to gloss over, protect and even ignore.  What I really need to do, and what will cause me greater blessing (and far less pain) in the long run, is to expose these areas to the one who can truly fix them.  As I ask God to work in the "rotten" and hurting areas of my life, I need to be prepared for a little bit of discomfort.  It hurts to let go of regret, and it hurts to face your fears and pain.   What is required, however, is to counter your instinct to run away and hide, and be willing to remain open and soft.  Given the choice between having it all together, and a hardened heart - or, falling apart a little bit and being soft-hearted, I'd pick the latter.  Those who are soft and open may be more susceptible to hurt, but they also are more compassionate and far more open to love.

Not everything about your relationship with God is meant to be mushy and gushy and pleasant.  He is in the business of restoration, and like any tooth - or automobile, a certain amount of pain is required to clear the area out before it is reconditioned and rebuilt.

Hosea 6:1 says:
Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
You can be sure that what you surrender to God's hands will be well taken care of.  He is Comforter, Healer, Savior and the most compassionate Father.  He truly cares for his creation and although, at times, He seems to administer "tough love", it is all with the desire to see us whole, complete and lacking no good thing.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly.  O Lord of hosts, Blessed is the man who trusts in You!  -Psalm 84:11

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Worms, Ice Cream, Sleeping In... It's Summer!

For probably four days in a row, I've sat down and typed a few paragraphs only to find that my thoughts were incomplete and I didn't have the heart to finish a blog posting.  It may have something to do with the warm embrace of summer that calls for me to slow down, take it easy and throw the restraints of schedules and obligations out the window.  Of course, it might also have something to do with the fact that I seem to cycle through emotions like a beach toy floating on the open sea - waves toss me up then down and occasionally I feel myself paddling frantically for some sense of solid, secure grounding.  Those are thoughts for another day, however.

Summer is a time for homemade ice cream, digging for worms and drinking lemonade on the new deck (that my awesome husband built for me)!

Summer is a time for sleeping in after long days playing in the sun.

Summer means eating lots of fresh fruit and having picnics in the backyard.

Summer is a time for my naked baby to waddle around and splash excitedly in the kiddie pool, in our backyard. 

Hot, humid summer nights are perfect for watching the dark night sky light up with streaks of white that come in rapid succession and make you feel like the paparazzi is outside your window!

Summer is a time for answering machines that say:
"I'm sorry, but I'm having far too much fun relaxing and resting to answer the phone right now.  Please leave a message after the beep, and I might get back to you... on a rainy day... or when the season changes..."

Although I do have some deep thoughts rolling around in my head these days, I have a feeling they won't be posted today.  Instead, I'll dwell on the light, airy, happy summer thoughts... all which happen to be thankful thoughts:

I'm thankful for kids who tenderly care for each other, as a tiny hand holds onto one that is even tiny-er... and they explore the beautiful world together with wonder...

I'm especially thankful for how my children teach me JOY.  The world is wonderful and unspoiled to them, and they appreciate simple things.  Every moment is made to be savoured.  I could do well to learn from their prompt inclination to humor and delight.
I'm thankful for clean water....  As I prepare to go on a mission trip later this year to India, specifically to visit children who live in slums, I can't help but feel gratitude for the bounty we experience here in North America.  My kids play freely with water from the hose, spilling it on the ground - and others die for lack of clean drinking water.  I don't mean to put a damper on this cheery, thankful post, yet I must acknowledge the marvelous blessing of health, food, water, safety, a home and a happy, loving family.
This brings me to my last grateful thought. I'm thankful for beauty...  I am the proud parent of 3 beautiful girls, although one of my girls is well on her way to being a young lady.  And I think she's gorgeous.  The best part is that she is beautiful both inside and out.  She's generous, polite, caring and considerate to those around her.  Did I mention how beautiful she is?  Thank goodness Daddy has his Firearms license and can own a gun!  Ha ha!

It's a good time to be thankful.  If anything, we can be grateful that we're not shoveling a foot of snow off of the sidewalk... Well, just wait another 5 months and I'll have to figure out a way to be thankful for winter.

What are you thankful for today?

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Fairy Tale Life

Yesterday I was scrubbing gummy, dried out cereal mush off of the floor on my hands and knees, under the dining room table.  I was still in my pj's; a tank top and comfy black capri-sweatpants, and although it was already 3:30 in the afternoon, I felt like I hadn't stopped moving since waking up.  Actually, I felt remarkably like Cinderella, scrubbing the floor with soap bubbles flying all around; over-worked and unappreciated for my finer qualities; only, I didn't have chubby, little singing mice and sweetly chirping birds to ease my work load.

Other days, I can compare myself to Hansel and Gretal as I chase the trail of Rice Crispies that scatter on the floor, falling from 3 year old's pockets and chubby hands as he skips away from the breakfast table in search of adventure.  With my eyes on the ground, I follow the tiny cereal bits all around the house - over the couch, up the stairs, into the bathroom; until the culprit is found, nibbling away at his contraband snack, under a blanket fort in his big sister's room.

It seems that we often desire a fairy tale life for ourselves.  Only mine has somehow become twisted and far more boorish than the ideals I daydreamed about as a little girl.  When I was 11, picking out my perfect children's names:  Christopher, Charlotte, Daisy and Stuart, and dreaming of my tall, dark and handsome knight in shining armor, I never would have imagined the predicaments I would be dealing with "in real life".

I was supposed to have grown into a lovely lady, poised and gentle, with long, flowing locks that were never tangled or (heaven forbid) in a ponytail.  My children would play happily together, showing utmost concern for eachother's well being; always speaking considerately to one another.  We would lay on a perfect (mosquito and bug-free) grassy knoll, on one of those perfectly quaint patchwork quilts, reading Tennyson and discussing music.

Instead... my fairy tale looks a whole lot more like the Shrek versions of the classics.  Loud, obnoxious bodily noises are extolled and praised by my perfect little ladies and gentlemen.  Nearly every day on the trampoline, a shoving match ensues as the children endeavor to bend my rule about rough play, instead insisting that they are merely having "tickling matches" which inevitably end in a child or two crying and yelling "Mommmy!!!"

Another startling reality:  You know those vintage cookbooks, from the 70's that I inherited from my mother, that show a serene housewife in a perfectly pressed apron and cute flowery dress, holding out a tray of hors d'oeurvres to her pipe-smoking husband as he reads the newspaper in a lazy-boy with his feet up...?  Well, all the claims of those cookbooks and promises that "your husband will adore you when you serve him this easy- to- make Croque Monsouir" are highly overrated and unattainable!   The audacious idea that I would be both dressed in clean clothes and have my hair and make-up done, along with having the house in order (and the children quiet), while making a gourmet three-course-dinner for my husband is a far cry from the stacks of pots and pans, finger-painted pictures drying on every available flat surface and me, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, with a pony-tail and the only decorative accessory to be found is a 1 1/2 year old that is hanging off my hip!

'Gee Whiz... Now I've burned the pot roast and my husband will think I'm such a square!'

All this brings me to the following conclusion.  My life is not meant to be a fairy tale, and frankly it will never look like a fairy tale.  Therefore, my expectations need an adjustment if I am to accept and enjoy my existence.  Guess what?  The biggest enemy that I have in regards to contentment and joyfully embracing life is: ME!

My husband doesn't care about seeing a perfectly made-up wife, with the house all in order, the children clean and pressed and mini meatballs with little umbrellas decorating them prepared for his pre-dinner appetizer. (Although, I'm sure he would appreciate some sort of delicious snack awaiting him when he steps in the door!)  Anyway... this is NOT likely to happen in this complicated, messy life of mine - as long as I have small children in the house.  What does my husband care about?  A big smile!  A warm greeting as he opens the door.  He wants a haven of peace and acceptance in our home that can't be found anywhere else.  Accomplish this; and I'll be well on my way to living a fairy tale marriage.

Furthermore, and I've discussed this idea numerous times in my blog: what do my children crave and need from me?  Not more toys, activities, the 'latest styles' of clothing and the most recently released Wii game.   They just want ME!  Freely dispersing hugs and kisses, snuggling in bed and listening to my children's corny jokes and peculiar stories is what makes for a fairy tale childhood.

So as I adjust my mindset, and once again remind myself of what makes a successful family and marriage (not more stuff and NOT looking perfect all the time), I am left wondering what would hold me back from being content with my lot in life.  Once again, the answer is: "me".  So instead of comparing and complaining and convincing myself that I don't do enough, I must take an honest look around me at the wonderful gifts I've attained.

I have a husband who loves me, even when I'm grumpy, messy and frustrated.

I have six children who depend on me, love and adore me; even when I don't mop the floor and I feed them PB & Jelly for the third time in a week.

If we're counting the things that really matter... I'd say my childhood prediction of "happily ever after" was correct.  It just ended up a whole lot louder and messier than I had counted on!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not-So-Happy Half-Marathon (the sordid details)

I was sweaty, my feet had blisters and my legs felt tired, but didn't want to stop moving.  I was so exhausted that felt like I was going throw up, and my stomach was sending me all sorts of painful mixed signals, forcing me to run to the bathroom.

Bittersweet success...  I completed a half-marathon.  The culmination of many months of dedicated training had paid off in a reasonable finish time (that would have been "perfect" for me, had I not taken a potty break).  My smiling husband and children showed their pride in my completion, but for now the world was blurry and surreal as I walked back and forth in between the finish line and the bathrooms, waiting for my muscles to relax somewhat, and for my body to cool down.

I had expected a sense of elation... I mean, this was an event that I had envisioned and planned for since the spring, knowing that it would take a great measure of dedication in order to complete.  Weirdly, I wasn't thrilled, I was just "done".

Running this race was probably one of the most physically grueling things I've ever done in my life.  I pushed myself harder than I ever have before.  What's difficult with running such a long race, is that you MUST pace yourself, or you will fall apart before you even reach the half-way point!  I started up a bit faster than I normally would on a long run, but in the excitement of a race, with athletic bodies swiftly moving around me on every side, it was difficult to not become totally caught up in the wave of runners.  It's hard to remember to breath and find your rhythm and pace.

Thank God for pace bunnies!  These are experienced runners, who have numerous races under their belt and can comfortably run at a consistent pace, knowing within a minute or two when they will arrive at the finish line!  At the start line, you are typically expected to line up according to how fast you anticipate you will be running.  I parked myself close to the 1:50 pace bunny (meaning, that he would complete the 22 km in 1 hour and 50 minutes), thinking that perhaps by being in a race, I'd be more likely to have the gusto to complete this distance faster than ever before.  It was such a comfort to follow the lead of a steady runner.

As the miles passed, I became less concerned about keeping up with the pack, and less interested in the competitors beside me.  Instead, I tried to focus on the beauty of the run, as we circled the Glenmore Reservior and weaved through treed areas, up and down hills and through the occasional clearing.  I pictured the distance in my mind, and for the first half of the race, eagerly approached each kilometer marker with vigor and spring in my step.  Slowly but surely, the zippy pace which I had started out with began to take it's toll on me.  Not only that, but my bladder felt as though it was going to burst.  I kept thinking - should I jump into the bushes, and hope no one sees me?  But no, I'd continue on for another km or two, hoping that I'd soon see a bathroom.

At one point, after taking a quick stop at a drink station (I can never drink and run at the same time!), I lost sight of my pace bunny.  Panic filled my being, and I attempted to quicken my pace and hopefully catch up.  That tall, lean, athletic man with the white baseball cap and black shirt labelled "1:50" on the back was my knight in shining armor! He was the one who kept me going and prevented me from giving up.  If I could just keep his skinny runner legs and Nike shoes in my sight, I knew I wouldn't fail!  This time, I managed to catch up enough to see him after some little hills, but eventually, around the 14km mark, I lost him!

Now I was intent upon staying in front of the next pace bunny... "Mr. 1:55".  He was a stalky little guy, and I didn't have as much faith in him because he started out so quickly, racing ahead of the 1:50 pace bunny.  About a quarter of the way through the race, he had slowed down, and all of the 1:50's had overtaken him.  I figured that his strategy might be to start out strong, then settle into a steady, slower pace, and once near the finish line, pick up the pace again.

Everything was going great, except my mind became quite unstable.  As the blisters on my feet began to swell, I was asking myself "What the heck am I doing out here?"  I'm so competitive, though, and quite stubborn as well.  I LOVE challenge.  Maybe that's why I embrace the whole "natural childbirth" idea, and even it's more extreme expression of "unassisted childbirth".  So on one hand, here I was doing the most difficult thing of my life (next to having a baby), yet... it was 100% my choice and supposed to be something that I enjoyed!

For a while, my spirits sank to new lows and I didn't even want to check the GPS on my phone to confirm my pace, distance and time.  I still had to pee really bad, too.  Then came an enormous climb out of the valley, and I was passed by numerous runners.  I started to make excuses for myself so I wouldn't feel bad - thinking that the majority of these people had probably run a lot more races than me, and many of them were probably in running groups.  As for me... it was just lil' ol' me.  I had picked my race alone, planned my training alone and ran alone.  This thought process actually made me feel a little more justified in my weariness and I began to contemplate not having a great finish time, but merely finishing the race!  (And I still had to pee!)

Something wonderful and beautiful happened around the 16km marker.  There, parked on the side of the road, was a green mini-van with a crowd of my fans standing beside it.  It was my family!!!  They were jumping and cheering and raising their hands in the air.  I quickly picked up my pace, with a spring in my step and new vigor infusing me from their encouragement.  It was the best thing ever... and so timely.  (But I still had to pee.)

Finally, another km or so later, I saw a "washroom" sign pointing across a patch of grass.  At this point, I couldn't deny my bladder any longer.  I sprinted across the grass, only to see a lock on the door. I guess I'd be using a tree after all!  Dismay and anger quickly fizzled out when I realized that it wasn't locked, but that they stored the lock on the door bolting mechanism.  I burst inside the door and fumbled to shut it securely.  Thank God, I made it!

This was one of those times where it was a great inconvenience to be a girl.  Sitting down was the last thing my legs needed to do, and they were shaking and my muscles were twitching.  As soon as I jumped out of the bathroom, I lurched forward across the field and back onto the path.  I was determined to find my place back in the human chain of racers.  It was then that I noticed the 2:00 (2 hour) pace bunny ahead of me, and thought to myself:  It's alright.  I'll follow her lead, and then pull forward in the last km or so.

Unfortunately, it was extremely challenging to keep up.  My breath was uneven and I was all messed up from stopping to use the bathroom.  I knew I had to take it easy for a little bit, or I'd end up passed out on the side of the road!  "Well..." I thought, "as long as the 2:05 pace bunny doesn't catch me..." (and at least I didn't have to pee anymore!)

Running for such an extended period of time leaves you with a lot of space to think.  I thought about how this race was like my life - filled with effort and challenges.  Sometimes all you can do is keep your eyes on someone who is farther ahead of you, and think: "I can keep up.  I won't quit."  I've had many of these times in my life - where things were so tough, and I was exhausted - but I was encouraged by the progress of others in front of me.  Likewise, when it came to the drink stations, these reminded me of times in my life where people have provided much needed refreshment, giving me strength to continue my journey.  Also, a lot of this refreshment comes to me by seeking the Lord, and prayer.

Anyway, we were nearing the finish line and I felt myself drooping.  I kept losing track of how many kilometers were left, and then would try to lie to myself whenever I did see a marker along the road, and I'd pretend that the distance remaining was shorter than it really was!  When the athletic centre and track where the finish line was set up was finally within sight, I though "Yay!  I can do this, I'm gonna make it."  Then I realized that we were taking the long way around, and that we'd have to complete three quarters of a lap around the track to actually cross the finish line.  At this point, all I could do was put one foot in front of the other.  I so wanted to walk.  No, what I really wanted to do was collapse on the side of the road and cry.  But still, I plodded on.  Sometimes, the face of one of my athletic friends (a personal trainer) would come into my mind, and I thought of how tough and fit she was, and how I wanted to be like that!  So I kept running... and running... and running.

Crossing the finish line - 2:02:32
Along the track, my husband caught up with me (although, I'm sure I wasn't going very fast at that point) and took a few snapshots with his phone.  Then, around the curve and I could see the finish line!  I managed to pick up my feet and gave it everything I had, sprinting on through, my electronic chip registering and recording my time as I stepped over the finish mat.

And it's over.

After logging hours and hours and miles and miles of running in my training log, I finished the race.

Would I do it again?  Ya.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Relationship Rescue

One day, while sitting in the emergency waiting room with my unhappy, crying preschooler who had a terrible earache, I witnessed a parade of newbie med students walking through the ward.  The majority of them were women, most with a professional, intelligent demeanor as they visually scanned the waiting room and were given a tour of the surrounding area.  I happened to be the only parent with a hurting child waiting to see a doctor, and my little girl is definitely a precious, heart-melting sight on any given day - but this time, she appeared even more endearing with her pouty lip sticking out sadly, mussed up wavy hair and crocodile tears occasionally dripping down a cheek as she whimpered with her head against my chest.  As I observed the med students, one in particular made eye contact and noticed my unhappy little girl.  I immediately saw the heart-felt empathy on her face and could sense the desire within her to help as compassion practically radiated from her, across the room.

After the group passed through the room on their introduction to the world of hands-on-medicine, I shook my head slightly in disbelief, finding myself thinking of how naive this young intern was to actually think that being a doctor would be all about helping the precious, hurting little children.  Even as I looked around the waiting room, it was quite obvious to me that the greatest proportion of people waiting to see a doctor could by no means be described as "cute".  In fact, some of them looked downright ugly and belligerent.  I guess what I saw in that waiting room represented long, grueling hours of work that may not always be very rewarding.  It was a duty that needed to be preformed by some intelligent and sympathetic human being, but being exposed to the continual suffering of others (and trying to heal the damages caused by the wrongful actions of others) - well, that would be enough to toughen or harden anyone's heart!  This young intern was so sweet... but she'd have to wise up - that was my initial analysis.

Admittedly, my thoughts were rather pessimistic in this situation.  It is actually kind of sad that such harsh judgement rose up in my mind, with little provocation.  I know however, that as the Bible says in Luke 6:45, "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks" or in this case: "the mind thinks".  So I was left to wonder what sort of beliefs and attitudes are inside me that would cause me to think in such a manner.

My role as a wife and parent have often become worn down with the seemingly never-ending sacrifices and all-around hard work involved in these relationships.  Ideally, like the young med student, we look at marriage and think of all the pleasantries - breakfast in bed, strolling around the park hand-in-hand and staring longingly into each others eyes.  We don't consider the times of balancing the bankbook and tightening the budget, picking up the balled-up socks off of the floor every day, and the times when all your spouse does is annoy you.  We can also look at parenthood with similar optimism; thinking of cuddles and coos, tender-moments and heart-felt talks, while dismissing the idea of broken dishes, loud and obnoxious noises, rude behavior and all-around ungratefulness.

Imagine living in a home where you spend all your time working: in the kitchen cooking and washing dishes, in the laundry room cleaning endless piles of clothes, and your time spent in all the other rooms is pretty much work related, unless you happen to be sleeping.  Day after day, you pass by the comfy couches with their fluffy pillows, ignoring the family members that may be lounging there - except to inform them to lift their feet when you are trying to maneuver the broom or mop past them.  Living in a house while never taking advantage of the place of rest and relaxation would be quite ridiculous, yet many of us are so busy in life that we can probably relate in some part.  I'd like to take this analogy, however, and  compare it to how we can treat our relationships with God.

I've spent the last few years stuck in a rut of duty and service.  I'm not saying that I've lost my love for the Lord in any way, but I seem to have come to a place where I engage in more of a business relationship with Him.  Come to think of it, this is similar to the frustrations I feel as I relate to my family members as well - I'm apt to focus on all the stuff I must do, and forget about the relationship part.  When I mentioned living in a house, where you never take advantage of the "living room" - the place of rest - I was originally thinking of how this relates to our experience with God.  We can become so busy, serving Him, and working hard to do His will, yet never find ourselves in that place of restful communion with Him.

I communicate with God on a regular basis; lifting up prayer requests whenever something crosses my mind - but I've found that there is a lot less true worship coming from my lips. When you drift from a close relationship, I think one of the first things to go is typically praise, adoration and affection.  You just don't feel like it any longer because you are either frustrated, hurt or simply too busy and preoccupied.  Taking a look at my own relationship with the Lord, I'm being honest when I say I've become quite preoccupied.  My heart has desired to do the right thing - and it's not that I've been running from Him - but all that "stuff" that has to be done, although good and worthwhile, is really good at getting in the way of my worship and prayer life.  I think it is no coincidence that Psalm 91:1 coins the term "secret place of the Most High" when referring to being in God's presence.  Anyone can come to the house of the Lord, and enter into salvation.  Not everyone learns to seek Him and find Him in his secret place.

Back to the idea of the young intern at the hospital.  What she really wants to do is practice medicine, and focus on the people whom she needs to treat.  She looks at the hurting individual, and wants to show care and concern, while providing healing.  My pessimism was focused on the long, grueling hours; crowded emergency rooms and lack of qualified professionals to spend "quality", personal time with each patient.  This is the unfortunate reality of our over-stressed medical system.

Thankfully, our relationships don't quite have to work that way.  I know that regarding my relationship with God, there are specific answers to dealing with all the "stuff" and busyness of this life.  Matthew 11:28-30 depicts what life should be like if we are truly following Jesus.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

When we make Him our priority, and refrain from making all the tasks and duties our priority, we will find true rest for our souls.  Is it hard to be a Christian and follow all the teachings of the Bible?  Unequivocally, "YES!".  However, it shouldn't be hard to simply come to Jesus and learn from Him.  Out of the relationship springs obedience.  Additionally, out of real relationship, we learn what is actually important, and what we should be laying down.

To the same degree, this concept is quite verifiable in our family relationships.  The reason you marry someone is not so you can be "great roommates" and help each other with the menial tasks and split the rent bill.  We get married because of the relationship... because we love to commune with that person and tell them our hopes and fears.   The same goes for children.  Although to some it may appear that I had lots of kids so they could do all the housework for me, and take care of me when I become old and weary... well, the truth is, I had lots of kids because I look forward to the wonderful years ahead of us as we grow our relationship from merely parent and child to friends.

This has become another one of those posts where I show you the ugliness inside my heart.  I guess that's what happens when you're human... I'm working on it though, and I hope that I've encouraged all the other "hard working, duty-driven, task-focused individuals" to take a long, honest look at what drives you.  

Sometimes, we're better off deleting our un-ending "To Do" lists, and just learn to BE... It means you spend a lot more time sitting and listening.  It means you take the time to remember what drew you to the relationship in the first place.  Whether your struggle is in your marriage, with your kids or with God (or...all three), I think the healing begins when you're willing to sink into the comfy couch and just STOP.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mayhem in Montana - July 4, 2011

I can now add "stunt-double" to my list of accomplishments when asked to provide a resume for any future employer.  Seriously... I believe I have earned for myself a badge of accomplishment as far as being involved in a crazy (though fairly unnecessary) stunt and remaining mostly intact and, most importantly, alive!

I must admit, all my life I've been a stickler for pain and punishment.  As I've mentioned in other posts, I've been quite a tom-boy most of my life; the type of girl to pick at my scabs, run in the rain despite having pneumonia, hunt in sub-zero temperatures, and, more recently, live in an extremely unfinished home with my newborn and 5 other kids!  Give me a challenge, and I'm apt to face it head on and try to make it more challenging, somehow.  Case in point, I'm racing in my first half-marathon (22 km or 13 miles) on Sunday, after just about a year of getting into running.

Something seems to draw me into difficult situations, like wasps are drawn to a spilt slurpee on the sidewalk.  I don't like being told "you can't do that" and I do enjoy being seen as someone who can do almost anything.  Yes, I admit there is a measure of pridefulness that I should be more repentant of, and if it wasn't for my stubbornness and trying to prove my point, I might not do so many crazy things.

This recent "stunt", however, was not something I willingly submitted myself unto, and it revealed something within me that was surprising.

It was a notorious Fourth of July evening, on a beautiful, crystal clear mountain lake in Montana.  The previous day, we had stopped in a nearby city to purchase food and fireworks to compliment our celebratory days at the lake.  Every couple of miles, we'd see another trailer (or two) full of fireworks for sale, set up alongside the main roads of the city.  After shopping for food we stopped at a "wholesale fireworks supplier" amid all the other patriotic Americans who were stocking up for the big day.  I don't think my husband would be embarrassed to admit this, but he was like a kid in a candy store.  He strolled up and down the length of the trailer, scanning the shelves for the ideal explosives - the kind which are not available back on our tamer, more regulated Canadian soil; the kind which are responsible for emergency room visits from daring (and probably cocky) individuals who derive great pleasure from blasting and burning and blowing up things.  To give even more perspective on this wonderful, tantalizing yet calamitous event, I found the following statistic on the University of Rochester Medical Center website:

It’s a daunting statistic: More than half of the 11,000 annual injuries associated with fireworks and grill fires occur within the first week of July, according to the National Fire Data Center.

Yay!  What fun!  This wonderful holiday season in July was the most fantastic excuse ever for my pyromaniac husband to get himself into a competitive atmosphere of destructive, explosive spectacles involving gunpowder and FIRE!

In all honesty, I quite enjoyed the sparklers and pretty colors of the smoke bombs and various smaller fireworks.  I didn't care quite so much for the noisy firecrackers that blasted loudly and repetitively and succeeded in making our toddler cry in fright.  Later on in the evening, however, I tucked our youngest (18 month old baby) into bed, hoping that the cabin walls would be enough to deaden the sounds of our raucous celebration.  (Thankfully, he slept soundly through the night!)

As the dusk covered the mountain sky, the displays of fireworks became greater, louder and longer all along the homes of those who lived and vacationed at the lake.  We happened to be celebrating with a fairly young crowd, including a group of guys with obviously dangerously high levels of testosterone; as testified by their daring behavior.  One of the 'coolest', yet clearly audacious things they would do, was to light a smaller firework in their hand, then, at the right moment, throw it out over the lake so it would explode mid-air, shining and sparkling over the water!  Of course, right among that crowd was my wily husband - although for most of the evening he was occupied with lighting smaller, tamer fireworks for the kids - firecrackers, smoke-bombs, "bees", and "UFOs" to name a few.

I was happily toasting myself near the bonfire with a bunch of the children and the 'more sane' of the adults, when a commotion drew my attention to the dock.  I heard my husband yelling "Oh shoot!" and could vaguely see several of the guys scrambling frantically away from the dock.  There was a sparkling, newly lit firework in progress where the guys were, and suddenly the sound of booming explosions began.

"Ruuuuuuunnnnn......" yelled one of the guys - and a stampede of onlookers, in a state of panic, began to turn from the glorious sight of bursting fireballs, and run towards safety.  In that instant, it was obvious that something was terribly wrong, as the fireworks were blasting not up into the sky, but parallel to the ground, towards the spectators!

My adrenaline surged and I had but one thought: escape!  Amid the noise and chaos, I ran a couple of feet towards the cabin, only to stumble headlong into a Powerwheels jeep - slamming my knees into the frame and landing across the metal roll-bar with my ribcage while jarring my already sore wrist (which I had hurt the previous week while learning to rip-stick).  At that moment, this could have been mistaken for a Hollywood set - only the colorful fireworks should have been plain white; emulating the blasts from grenades and bombs as the soldiers and innocent civilians (me) dove for cover from enemy fire!  I literally had the air knocked out of me, and felt lightheaded as I untangled myself from the jeep and crouched on the ground.  There were a few more blasts as the final explosions took place, and then, when it became apparent that the crisis was over, there were loud guffaws and nervous laughter as the guys reveled in their survival of a potentially perilous extravaganza of masculine entertainment.

I sat in a bit of a daze, feeling slightly miffed at the event and wondering who was the brains behind such a obstinate act of disregard for the safety of innocent bystanders.  Then my mind suddenly cleared as I heard the voice of my 3 year old calling for me and I realized that I had plunged to cover with no regard for my darling children and the potential threat to their well being!  What sort of mother was I?  For those moments, I became purely instinctive, allowing the adrenaline to direct my body in panicked self-preservation.

My son came over to me and cuddled onto my lap as we sat on the grass.  "That was loud, Mommy!"  he proclaimed.

I slowly caught my breath and found myself strangely tired and feeling weary at the idea of more fireworks and festivities.  My husband came jogging over to me, and with a gleam in his eye, exclaimed:  "Did you see that!?  I was in the middle of exploding fireworks!"  He had a maniacal sort of grin on his face, and went on to profess excitedly: "That was crazy!"

Then he noticed that I was dull, quiet and seemingly shell-shocked.  "What's wrong?"  he asked, puzzled at my lack of jubilation.

I sighed... not entirely wanting to be a spoil-sport, but needing to be honest about the situation.  "I ran for cover and fell and hurt myself" I explained, lamely.

"Oh...I'm sorry" he apologized.  He went off to join the guys as they searched for the rest of the surviving fireworks available to explode, completing the evening's show.

I felt a growing sense of disdain for the careless young guys who foolishly caused terror and mayhem (resulting in me getting hurt)!  As much of a daredevil that I am, this situation had been out of my control and I was left feeling guilty for my lack of care and concern to my children in a time of danger.

Not too much later, everything that could have been exploded had been lit up and there were no more noisy combustibles left to deploy.  I herded the children off to the cabin, to tumble in contented exhaustion into bed after a long, exciting day and evening outdoors.  I was more than willing to tuck myself in as well; easing my battered and bruised body onto the soft mattress, and tentatively resting my sore, swollen wrist on some bunched up blankets beside me.  We survived the fourth of July...

The next day, after counting my bruises and deciding that they made decent war-wounds to commemorate our active vacation, my husband and I were discussing the previous evening's events.  As I listened to his colorful description of the "disastrously amazing explosion", I suddenly came to the realization that it was my husband, not one of the juvenile hooligans who had been the cause of my suffering and near-heart-attack!  With a sigh, and a sense of resignation to our lifestyle of adventure and danger, I found myself slightly proud at his antics, while maintaining a hint of anger, considering the wounds which I had suffered.  Apparently, he had innocently tried to light one firework, when some sparks flew and lit some of the other fireworks next to it.  In an attempt to stop a disastrous situation, he tried to push the sizzling, sparking tube off of the dock and into the water, but only succeeded in knocking it sideways so it was aimed at the crowd on shore.  This was when the explosions began, and the only option left for the guys was to run (and scream at the crowd to run for their lives)!

"Well, I'm glad you had fun."  I consented to him, trying not to encourage this sort of behavior, yet not wanting him to feel guilty, either.

That concludes the story of our Mayhem in Montana.  I'm not sure if I learned much of a lesson from our short stint of celebrating with patriotic Americans.  As I said before, what surprised me the most, was realizing that in the face of panic and danger, concern for my well-being outweighed concern for my children.  I've often engaged in that sort of "every man for himself" attitude when it comes to sports, and it's no surprise that I prefer solitary, endurance-related activities.  Perhaps I need to work more on a sense of partnership and team-spirit - especially when it comes to my family!  Anyway, I guess not everything I write about needs to teach a life-changing lesson.  At least I'm left with a life-long memory...