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.

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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.

Healthy Again

Three cheers for a normal weekend and the end of the stomach flu!! I don’t know when I have ever felt so overjoyed to finally clean my bathroom. It feels GREAT to be healthy again. As horrible as it was to experience two weeks of everyone in our family taking turns getting sick with the stomach flu, there is nothing like sickness for making a person feel thankful for health! It’s so much fun to eat again! I’m a fan. Just like that, my life is complete simply because I can eat and clean things. Simple pleasures!

I woke up this snowy Monday morning with joy and anticipation in my heart, because this beautifully normal day is full of possibilities – I could clean out my fridge! Or bake something with my kids! Or get caught up on the laundry! Or all of them! Because the stomach flu is gone, and all is right in our little world. Normal has become a novelty, and I will ride that wave as long as I can, because it won’t seem quite this exciting forever.

What are you doing with your lovely Monday?

Are You Afraid to Create?

“Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

Look, I don’t know what’s hidden within you. I have no way of knowing such a thing. You yourself may barely know, although I suspect you’ve caught glimpses. I don’t know your capacities, your aspirations, your longings, your secret talents. But surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)

I felt creative fear this last week. I was standing in my sister’s living room, surrounded by piles of shopping bags, and I was about to start decorating her bookshelves.

And just for a moment, I had this paralyzing feeling of doubt and fear of failure. I had flown out to Ottawa for the specific purpose of decorating her house, and I knew those bookshelves were going to make it or break it. They were huge and looming, and I wanted them to look amazing, but in that moment, all I could think was, “I don’t know if it can do this.”

That probably sounds far too dramatic, but let me just say that bookshelves are hard. They need to be full, but not too full. Coordinated, but not too matchy. Heights and sizes and flow are all important, if you want to get it right. If it’s done well, they’ll look awesome. If not, they’ll look busy and cluttered, or just bare and empty, longing for someone to come make them beautiful.

I recently came across a decorating company on instagram that advertised themselves as being “experts” in bookshelves. It kinda takes an expert, because it’s just really hard to do it well.

There was nothing else to do, other than dig in and get started, or else we would have wasted a lot of time and money on all the decor items we’d just purchased. I got through the first shelf, and was feeling a bit encouraged. By the second shelf, I was starting to have fun. “I think this is working!” I was thinking to myself. “Maybe I will be able to pull it off.” I stepped back to see how it was shaping up, and that was a mistake, because suddenly all I could see again were the wide, gaping shelves which still remained empty. Again, I had those sinking, doubtful feelings, but once again, I grabbed more books and got back to work.

When I finally finished, I plopped down on a chair, and just looked. I sat and looked and looked, because I had done it, and I loved it. I didn’t know if I could do it, and then I brought something into existence which was not there before, and I’d created something I felt proud of.

I keep thinking about this because I wonder what else I’m capable of, but don’t dig in and just start trying. My sister says I should start a decorating company. Ben says I should write a book. My friend says I should start a health blog. I don’t do any of them, because I am saying I don’t have time right now, with homeschooling and a three year old, but I wonder if deep down, it’s just because I’m afraid to start, or maybe I’m afraid I’m not passionate enough to make it happen.

I don’t know what is hidden deep inside me and I don’t know what I would bring out if I dug down to discover it. I’m afraid it won’t be perfect, I’m afraid it will be rejected, I’m afraid it’s all been done before, and I’m afraid it’s much too late to get it started. I’m afraid it won’t be significant or important. I’m afraid I don’t know enough to write a book, and there’s no chance that fiction is happening here, which means it would have to be real life, but my life is pretty small. And decorating someone’s house also seems kind of small, because we really could all survive with bare walls and empty bookshelves, so I’m afraid it’s not significant enough.

But when my sister came into the room once I was finished, she said, “NOW it feels like home.” And then I realized what my driving passion really is – home. My whole life, I have just wanted to make a home for my family. A safe, peaceful, cozy place where everyone can come in and feel something – I don’t even know what, exactly. Maybe just like they belong. I spend every single day of my life doing this for my own family, but when my sister said that, I realized I was actually able to give her the same feeling in her own home, and suddenly it didn’t feel frivolous anymore.

This is not a blog post to announce that I’m starting a decorating company or anything like that!! Rather, it’s just some ramblings on that feeling you get when you create something, in spite of being afraid, and know deep down that you did something beautiful. There is a little bit more loveliness in the world, because you chose to create.

I don’t remember to take pleasure in that often enough. I stick it under the label of “humility” – don’t take too much pride in something you made or accomplished. But I’ve swung too far over to the side of not allowing myself to feel any pride. Those twinges are quite persistent, though – when my pantry is perfectly organized, and I want to keep opening the door to gloat over it a little. Or when I put extra effort into making an especially colourful salad for supper, and I feel just a little proud of myself for making it beautiful. Why do I insist on stamping that feeling down and resisting it?

Kaylia proudly hangs her artwork on the fridge. Everett calls me over to see the train track he built all by himself. Anika has a flush of enthusiasm on her face as she tells me about an especially good scene she just finished writing in her book. Even Ben called me over to admire the garden box he built in our yard last summer, and sent me a picture of himself receiving an award this weekend.

I love to celebrate those moments with others – why wouldn’t I do the same for myself? I want to dig deeper, and see what I find when I’m brave enough to bring out what I can do and create and share. Maybe a bookshelf won’t change anybody else’s life. But maybe it could change mine. Maybe I have no idea what could open up inside me if I would take more chances, do hard things, just dig in and get started, and then bask in the sense of pride and accomplishment I feel at the end. Maybe I’ll actually write a book. Or find some more empty bookshelves. Who knows? Maybe it’s just enough to know that when I’m not sure if it will be great, I should just try anyway.

I hope you’re too brave to have any idea what I’m talking about, but maybe not? Is there anything you’ve been dreaming of creating, but haven’t had the courage to start?