Weekend Favourites

We celebrated Father’s Day at the cabin this last weekend. It was beautiful and fun, but I was also really happy to have my kids tucked in their own beds last night. They seriously needed to recover from a weekend away!

As I sat on our couch last night, listening to the birds and watching the sunset, I thought about how amazing it is to enjoy going away and coming home!

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Friends With Time (and how I’m dealing with a midlife crisis)

“Maybe you’re having a midlife crisis,” Ben suggested one evening, as we were getting ready for bed.

I scoffed at this idea, because I’ve always associated midlife crises with men much older than me, who spontaneously buy red convertibles, and leave more buttons undone on their shirts than usual to reveal gold chains nestled among chest hair.

I couldn’t relate to any of those things, so I thought Ben was joking at first, but when I realized he was serious, and I gave it some more thought, I began to see that he might be onto something.

I’d been in a funk ever since Ben’s 40th birthday in January. We’d had a great time celebrating his birthday, and Ben is very graceful with his aging, but my problems had started shortly after.

My own 40th birthday is coming up in July, and I have to admit, I’ve really been struggling with the idea. There’s something about being halfway through the average life expectancy that’s had my mind working overtime, which generally leads to anxiety, and an obsessive focus on working out my thoughts before I can settle down again.

It would be easier on all of us if I’d just go out and buy the red convertible already.

But no, we all have our own ways of dealing with dealing with midlife crises. My way involves buying a clock, which is not nearly as sexy as buying a convertible, but seems to be doing the trick anyway.

I’ve wanted one of those huge wall clocks for a couple of years already, but I would never normally buy one for myself. For my birthday last year, my parents asked what I wanted that would be fun, and something I wouldn’t get for myself, and so I asked for a clock. My mom told me to pick one out, and so I did what I normally do – waited an entire year to figure out what I actually wanted, because this is a far bigger issue than simply choosing a clock.

A new clock would mean a new paint colour on the wall, and a new console table under the clock, and probably new lamps on the table, so there was all that to consider, along with the fact that our decorating budget is $0 at the moment.

But then I started questioning the whole idea of a massive clock, in general. Do I want such an emphasis on the passing hours? Do I want every person who comes into our home to see such a huge display of time? Don’t I want the kind of home where time seems to stand still?

So I did nothing about the clock for months. Because it’s never just a clock, or just a picture, or anything else that comes into our home. I’ve written blog posts about our photo gallery, our bookshelves, even our grass, for crying out loud. No wonder my life feels heavy sometimes, when there’s such a weight of significance behind everything!

I thought about clocks, and time, and my midlife crisis for awhile, and then one day I came across something in a book about time being precious, exactly because it’s limited, and I started to think about things differently.

When something is unlimited, we don’t need to be careful with it, and we can use it with wreckless abandon. But when there’s a limit to how much we get, we make different choices.

I was listening to a podcast about how everyone wants to leave their mark in the world, so they won’t be forgotten as time passes. But when you think about it, even the most famous people, who changed the course of history and are still remembered hundreds or even thousands of years later, are not really known. We know of them, but we don’t know them.

We might do something that’s remembered, but we won’t find a way to be known, truly and deeply, many years from now. And so each life provides a limited opportunity – to be known, to impact the world, to be here taking up space, and for some reason, this realization took a lot of pressure off of me – the number of hours I get in this lifetime matter simply because I’m here. This time is special exactly because it’s limited.

Having said all that, though, I don’t want to make it seem like we should be freaking out and living with a scarcity mindset. It’s about savoring and intentionally enjoying what is limited.

So I bought the clock. It is my reminder that time is beautiful, and we will enjoy and savor the passing minutes and hours. I want to be all here, not longing for what was, and not worrying about what’s coming, because right now is good.

And strangely enough, I don’t feel so stressed about this whole 40 thing anymore. Something about admitting my feelings of anxiety out loud made it lose a lot of its power. I like where I’m at, and I don’t want to go back in time. I want the seconds to tick leisurely by in our home, and I don’t actually want to live in a home where time stands still. I want to be friends with time. I want my new clock to remind me that every moment is a gift.

But if Ben comes home from work one day and finds a red convertible parked in the driveway, he’ll know the clock didn’t quite do its job, and I needed something a little flashier to get me into the next decade of my life….

Kaylia Turns Nine

Today is our sweet girl’s birthday! Excitement has been building for about the last 363 days, which happens every year, so we should get a brief reprieve for the next couple of days, and then things will start amping up for next year.

It felt like this last year was a time of Kaylia becoming more herself – figuring out what she likes, who she is, how to express herself, finding her own little place in the world.

She divides her time four ways:

1) Curled up with a book on the little white chair in the corner of our living room

2) Coming up with all kinds of crafty creations at the kitchen table

3) Playing on the living room floor with Everett, often making fascinating things out of Lego

4) Playing with the neighbour kids down the street

She’s such an intriguing mix of things – quiet and hesitant in big groups of people, but full of witty comments, silly voices and songs, and mischievous grins when she’s with people she’s comfortable with. She doesn’t want to do new things, but when we can convince her to try and she finds that she likes it, she’s bursting with excitement, enthusiasm, and fun. When she’s happy, she wants to be with all her friends, and when she’s sad, she wants to be completely alone. Her thoughts run very deep, and will only come out in her own time, when she curls up beside me, and shares her thoughts in her quiet little voice.

She makes you work for the good stuff deep inside her, but then makes it completely worth all your effort. She is sweet and sensitive and kind. She makes life colourful and interesting and funny.

I’m delighted by her every day, and love watching her change and grow. I can’t imagine what this next year will hold for her, because life with Kaylia is always full of surprises.

Weekend Favourites

You guys, what happened this last weekend??!! It has been cold and rainy every May long weekend for the last six years, probably longer, but I didn’t keep track before that, because we lived at the lake year round, so it didn’t really matter.

But now it matters greatly, because May long weekend is when we go to my parents’ cabin for the first weekend of the summer, and the weather is always miserable.

And then this weekend happened, and it was perfectly beautiful.

I had to try out the new swing for myself, and I approve 100% of my dad’s placement for it. There’s that moment right before you go whooshing back down when all you see is lake and sky, and it feels like you could just let go and fly right out over the water.

It was such a great start to the summer. I have a good feeling about this one!

Be Kind, and Be Yourself… If You Want

Kaylia came to me the other day with a deep, dark secret – something about herself that no one must know, because she thought her friends would make fun of her. I listened to her pour her heart out, and promised not to tell a soul, but when she went off to play, I kept thinking about what would be the best way to help her through this.

A memory suddenly came back to me that I hadn’t thought of in years, and I remembered what it feels like to hide who I am, because the world doesn’t feel completely safe….

I was in grade nine, and the teacher gave us an assignment which had me feeling miserable. It sounded easy enough – choose your favourite song, copy the lyrics out, illustrate it and answer some questions about the meaning of the words. I knew I could do all of those things, except the first: choose a favourite song.

Junior high can be a hard place to admit truly liking anything, and music was especially a problem. I’ve always loved music, but I wasn’t allowed to listen to any of the music my friends listened to (for which I’m very thankful now, but at the time was not cool). I never spent any money on buying my own tapes, like my younger sister did, so I mostly contented myself with listening to her music, or whatever my mom was listening to. I knew that I could never use one of my mom’s songs for my project, because that would earn me unbearable amounts of ridicule, so my only choice was to find something from my sister’s music to use for my project. But since only Christian music was allowed at our house, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to find anything that would pass the scrutiny of my friends.

In a desperate attempt to choose something socially acceptable, I went with Steven Curtis Chapman – I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. There was a song he did together with a friend who was a rapper, which was unfortunate all around, because Steven Curtis Chapman was most definitely not a rapper, and sadly, the song was called “Got 2 B Tru”, adding irony to the pretense of presenting it as my favourite song.

I remember feeling ridiculous about the whole thing as I got my page of lyrics out at school the next day, hoping no one would notice, but of course, my friend looked over and loudly burst out, “Got 2 B Tru?! What kind of stupid song is that???” Everyone turned to look at me, and added their own comments on my song selection, as I tried to make myself as small as possible in my seat, wishing I could disappear.

I went home and threw those silly lyrics in the garbage (no offense to Steven Curtis Chapman), and tried to figure out what to do. I decided to choose one of my mom’s songs that had a line in it that I’d always liked, and hope nobody would notice (no offense to my mom!). For the rest of the class time we spent on that project, I was careful to keep my paper covered and out of sight.

It was a huge relief when we moved on to a different assignment, but in some ways, I never really moved on. I chose to avoid music, even though I loved it, because the embarrassment of that experience didn’t fade much. I wouldn’t admit to liking anything, to avoid being mocked.

It kinda worked out okay, because when I started dating Ben, he was happy to share his large collection of cd’s with me, and always had music playing. I didn’t necessarily love his choice of music, but I didn’t dislike it, so for years, we listened to whatever he liked.

But one day, maybe about seven years ago, I was reading a blog post that included a song, and as I listened to it, I realized: “THIS is the music I like. If I would choose my favorite, it would be this style of music.” It was a strange feeling – I had never admitted to anyone, even myself, what I really liked. I’d never claimed anything for my own, and labelled it my “favourite”.

I didn’t share it with anyone – I felt like I needed to keep trying it out on my own, so when no one else was home, I’d listen to the song secretly. I wasn’t worried that Ben would make fun of me, or anything, it just felt so new and different to actually say I liked a song, instead of just listening to what everyone else listened to.

This went on for a couple of days, but one day, Ben came home and caught me. My song was playing, there was no hiding it anymore, and he asked, “What kind of music is this?!” He was obviously confused, since he’d never heard the song, and in all our years of being married, I’d never turned music on when I was home alone.

I explained how I’d come across it, and that it was the kind of music I actually loved most, and he wasn’t sure about it, but after awhile, he said he kinda liked it. So he set out to find every song he could that had a similar style, and made me a playlist which we called “Happy Music”.

Over the years, we’ve kept adding to our happy music, and now it feels funny to think there was a time when I wouldn’t let the music in, and claim it for my own.

And so I remember the feeling of hiding, and thinking it wasn’t safe to be real. I tell this story to my kids, and I know the typical moral of the story would be “Be yourself”, but I’m not so sure.

I want to tell Kaylia to be brave, to just like whatever she likes, and not be afraid, but at the same time, I know what it’s like to hold something so fragile inside yourself, it doesn’t feel right to bring it out where everyone can see.

There are times when it’s great to take a chance and open up, but there are also times when it’s okay to have a small inner circle, and smile mysteriously to yourself, knowing that your secrets are safe with just the close few. That’s also being true to yourself, for those of us who hold things a little closer. And so I like to use my story as a reminder to be kind. source

Be kind to yourself by understanding that it’s okay not to push yourself, if it just doesn’t feel safe or comfortable. I felt so mush pressure to reveal what I didn’t want to, and then guilt and shame as I tried to find my way through. Rather than feeling all those heavy emotions, I wish I could have simply seen myself as kind of private, or slower to reveal parts of my heart. There is nothing wrong with that.

I do truly value the idea of being yourself, but there’s also wisdom in discerning the right time and place for sharing from your depths. I don’t want to hide who I really am, but I’m okay with having many layers, and waiting, quietly holding some things in for a time, until they’re ready to come out, until I feel safe, until the layers have gently been pulled back.

And being kind to others can mean being a safe place where others know their secrets will be protected, should they choose to share them. If I know what it feels like to experience mockery and ridicule, then I know how important it is to be the one others can feel safe with. So be yourself, but take your time. Be gentle with yourself, and with others. Be the safe place where they can bring their secrets to the light, in their own time.

When I Try to Move on, But Junk Keeps Coming Back

I went for a walk in the park the other morning, and it was everything a spring morning should be – the sun was warm, the breeze was cool, the air smelled fresh, the snow was melting, the water was running, and the geese were flying.

I was walking along with a light, happy heart, soaking in spring, when I suddenly noticed there were leaves everywhere – brown, rotting leaves from last fall, all over the ground.

They made me think of a quote I loved last fall – “Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.” Yet here they all were. They had fallen, but they hadn’t disappeared. And I kept thinking how it is often the same with some things I’ve tried to “drop” in my own life. I learn and grow, hopefully, but then I get discouraged when old thoughts or habits don’t disappear – I want them to be gone, and I don’t want to keep dealing with the same junk.

Sometimes I feel discouraged, because I think I should be farther along in dealing with something, and yet here it pops up again, like the leaves that fell last fall, showing up again in spring.

But then I began to think about how those leaves don’t change the fact that it’s spring. They did fall, things have changed, a couple of seasons have passed, and there they are.

What will happen to them? They will eventually disappear. They will decompose, and after awhile, in their own time, they will be gone. (Or the mower will come, but maybe the analogy starts to fall apart there….) Nobody is very worried about them being there, because we know they will soon be gone.

Maybe it sounds silly, or like I’m reeeeeally stretching to find an analogy, but for the rest of my walk, I kept looking at those leaves, taking comfort in the fact that they are just not a big deal. They can pop up all they want, but spring and new growth will keep on coming. Their time is limited.

My little victories, whether it’s in my thoughts or my habits or whatever, are real and they are mine. Even if I mess up and old habits die hard, I’m making progress. I let go of things, and while I would prefer to only deal with it once, there are things that hang around for a bit.

But they are on their way out. Their time is limited. I do not need to be discouraged, because new growth will keep right on coming, and soon those old troubles will be nowhere in sight.

It’s almost time for fresh, brilliant green little leaves to start uncurling, and they’ll be so beautiful, no one will be focusing on the old brown leaves.

Take heart! Spring is here, and He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

Overcoming Fear of the Future

I was sitting in the waiting room at an appointment one day, paging through a magazine, when an article caught my attention – “How to Overcome Fear”.

I hesitated for a second – I’ve struggled with fear and anxiety for most of my life, and although I desperately wanted to overcome fear, I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to dig into that whole thing again. Curiosity won, and I began to read. And that was the beginning of a lot more than I anticipated.

*

Fear stayed on my mind for weeks after that. I’d woken a sleeping dragon, and it would take awhile to settle the beast down again. But I didn’t want to simply settle it – I wanted it gone. I began focusing on verses about fear every time the old thoughts gripped me, but I was frustrated – how many times had I heard or recited “Perfect love casts out fear”? What was wrong with me? I believe in God’s perfect love, but my fear wasn’t cast out. What would finally get me to the point where I was filled once and for all with that perfect love, and would experience the freedom of fear being cast out? Something wasn’t working for me.

*

I didn’t know if it was a wise choice or not, but in the midst of my wrestle with fear, I read my friend Kate’s new book.

Her heart is right there on the page, and she has a painfully beautiful way of writing about being diagnosed with stage four cancer at the age of 35. Reading about her struggle with the idea of dying and leaving behind her husband and their little boy was tough for me, and added to the weight of what was on my mind. But reading about her darkness was what led me to light.

She described a moment right before she was about to go into surgery, alone for the first time since receiving her diagnosis, and she was terrified about the depth of fear she would get lost in if she were left alone. But she wrote that instead of being overwhelmed by fear, she was overcome with a perfect love so beautiful and strong that it carried her along, not just through those moments before her surgery, but for weeks to come. It was such an amazing love that she didn’t ever want to be without it again, so she began to ask anyone who had gone through a similar experience, “Will it fade?” And they said yes, it would fade, but she would never be the same.

And that’s when it hit me: I do not receive miraculous peace and provision until the moment I need it. Like the Israelites who tried to collect extra manna, and ended up with a rotten mess, we do not get to save up grace – it’s a fresh filling, a supply and demand kind of thing.

*

The magazine article about fear said that most of the time, it’s imagined. If you were in a dim room, and saw a coil of rope lying on the floor in the corner, you might mistake it for a snake. You might feel fear, until the light was turned on, and then you would realize there was nothing to fear. It would feel real, but it was imagined.

This was comforting, but also made me feel ashamed. Kate lives with the actual fear and reality of life with cancer, while I just can’t get my imagination under control.

And Christians are the ones who are supposed to live with “peace that passes all understanding”, but I was stuck with anxiety that passed all understanding. So many times, Ben would patiently listen to my tearful worries and fears, but then he would say, “I just don’t understand the way you think. I want to help you, but I don’t know how to make you see that you don’t need to worry about those things.”

And so I stayed trapped in the same old patterns of thought, with my imaginary snake in the corner.

*

I got a phone call one morning during the early years of being married, as I was about to head out the door to work. It was a close friend, telling me that her dad had passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly, letting me know when the funeral was.

I drove to work in shock, my mind racing. It didn’t take long for my thoughts to go in the direction of imagining myself in her place – what if my dad passed away without a chance for me to say goodbye? How would I handle it? What would it feel like to lose him?

I did what many seem to do – get lost in thinking about their own imagined situation instead of staying in my friend’s current reality. I caught myself after going far too long in the wrong direction. My heart was heavy with the thought of what it would be like to be in her position – but I wasn’t. I couldn’t be present to support her if I was lost in my fear and imagination of what it would be like to be her. I just needed to be with her. It was my first time realizing that God would only give me strength for what was real – I didn’t need His strength for what was imagined.

Many times, I felt the pull to start thinking, “What if it were me?” And each time, for the love of my friend, I chose to stay present, in her moment of suffering instead of getting lost in the fear of my own.

*

When we first think a thought, it is not set in our minds in the beginning. We have some time to choose if it will become a habit of thought, or if we will reject it. If we continue to think it and solidify it, it becomes a well-worn path in the mind. When another similar thought comes along, the brain needs to figure out where to place it. Every similar thought zooms off down the worn path, causing a reaction so fast and strong, you don’t even need to be aware of what’s happening.

I was 21 when I first started having health problems. I had just moved out on my own, and was faced with overwhelming tests and doctors appointments. No one could figure out what was wrong with me, and my imagination ran wild with fear. I knew nothing about how to deal with everything that was happening to me. I tried to trust God and find a way through, but the fear path in my mind took some dangerous turns as I wore it down to a well-travelled path in my mind.

To this day, thoughts of fear and the unknown will immediately take off in the same direction as always, making me feel as though I’m carried along on a ride I didn’t even choose – except I did, many years ago.

The good news is there’s hope and it’s never too late to change the path, and make new thought patterns. But it takes a ton of work, and so I dig in. I face the imaginary snake in the corner, I search for ways to shine light so I can see fear for what it really is.

Another verse sticks in my head – “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” But I’m a master at bringing the imaginary into this moment. If I mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario, I’ve fooled myself into thinking I will be prepared for anything. It’s a way of feeling like I’m in control, even though we all know that’s not possible.

*

Kate writes about a conversation with a friend about how to deal with her fear of having to leave her little boy. “‘Don’t skip to the end,” he says, “Don’t skip to the end.'”

Suddenly it all comes together in my mind – choosing to stay in this moment, trusting the perfect love to always be there no matter what happens in the future, stopping the fear before it runs down that well-worn path which only leads to a coil of rope in a dark corner.

*

I try to put this all into words for a friend. She listens patiently, and then she says, “When we jump ahead and imagine ourselves in a terrible situation in the future, we’re picturing ourselves standing there in the face of tragedy without the protective covering of God’s grace, and that is terrifying.”

Years of fear are suddenly exposed to me for what they really are – imagining myself without God’s protective covering. Not trusting that His perfect love will truly be there for me when I need it most. Frantically gathering manna before it is time, only to end up with rotten manna every time.

Don’t skip to the end. Stay in this moment. Grace for the present. Strength for today. My daily bread.

Someday the coil of rope in the corner will actually be a snake, and I do truly believe God’s perfect love will cover me that moment. In the meantime, I pray for the strength to keep living only one day at a time. It is simple, and it is hard.