Uncluttering the World For Our Kids

It only takes about .7 of a second to realize that we live in a cluttered world. We’re bombarded with messaging on all sides, and it’s not just from billboards or signs outside of our homes anymore. It’s constant. Each time we place our thumbprint on that little circle and enter the online world, we’re being pummelled with, not only ads for things we should have so our lives can be infinitely better, but ideas, ways of thinking, and strong opinions coming at us from every side.

There are days I find this hard to navigate, even as an adult. I can’t imagine the force of it on our young children’s minds, and even more so on our teens – given the amount of time many of them spend immersed in online activities.

I was driving with my son, who was very young at the time, and he was just in the phase of putting letters together to make words. C-A-T, cat. H-A-T, hat. You know the drill. He was buckled snugly in the back seat and, for the first time in his little life, the signs and ads and all of the words whizzing passed us as we drove, made sense in his head. “Mom!” he cried from the back seat, “I can’t make the words stop. Turn it off!”

Right. I’d never thought about it just like that before. But now, suddenly, all of the words he could once ignore were coming alive to him and it felt like overload. It felt a bit scary, even, when he realized he couldn’t make it stop. There was no way to go back to the blissful days of ignoring it all.

It stuck with me long past that day. Our world is full of clutter. Every which way our children turn there is hype about trinkets and toys. There are promotions about what will make them feel a certain way. There are concepts and conclusions being hurled at them on repeat at the rate of rapid fire. They hardly have time to decide what they think or feel about a thing before a new one is being launched their way.

It was then I decided our home would be different. Our home would not be a place of clutter, of bombardment, of excess and overstimulation. It’s not how I like to feel and so, I could only presume, it’s not how a small child would like to feel either.

It was oh-so-many moons ago that we adopted a form of minimalism. I know it’s all trendy and hype just now to use the word, but I think it goes so far beyond having fewer things and white walls (though we do love that, too!) . Rather, for us, it represents the idea minimal art first made its stand on. As minimal art made it’s way into the world, it was pushing back against the masses of abstract expressionism and the gaudy nature that can come from decorativeness and instead said – stop it! It pushed art back to the very basics – simplification of form, flat colour, and a very ordinary use of geometric shapes and objects.

We did the same in our home. We said, stop it! Stop telling me that every wall needs to be full, every shelf cluttered, every square inch covered by something some magazine or tv commercial told me I needed to have. Or even worse, things we felt defined us. As though our choice of trinket on the shelf said something about who we were as people. As if our toilet brush was a symbol of our very character. (I’m a stainless steel, while you’re a plastic red)

We began to strip things back and simplify. Choosing only a few of our very favourite pieces of art. Having empty space on shelves and in closets. Having clothes in our closet we would actually wear often. Having food that was delicious and good for us. We minimized the constant need for big choices all around us.

We did the same for our kids. We offered a few toys they loved and the rest got donated away. Turns out, fewer options led to more play, at least for our kids. When they weren’t overwhelmed by choices, when they didn’t have the opportunity to hop from thing to thing to thing the second they got bored, it changed their play.

As our kids grew we did the same for their devices. Yes, we understood they could get new free game apps on their iPod every single day (multiple times a day) but we didn’t like what it was fostering. The quick turnover of games meant the second they were bored with one thing they could find something new and exciting to stimulate them. It seemed dangerous. Especially to a family who values long term commitment.

Setting the tone in our homes is an important part of our role as parents. We certainly can’t control all of the things which smack our kids in the face as they’re walking through the mall. But we do get to determine what the mood is within our walls.

We want our home to feel like a place of calm. A place where our senses can take a breather and rest. We want our things in our home to lead to moments filled with animated conversation – this can’t happen for us if the tv is always on. We want the books and blankets near every place you sit to encourage curling up and getting whisked away into an imaginary land. We want the choices here to reflect our values and to foster the things we encourage in our kids.

We don’t encourage excess, overstimulation, a buffet of choices, hopping from one thing to the next on a whim or entertainment that robs our own imaginative minds.

We want creativity and often the best forms of it come from a bit of boredom. We want commitment to a craft, not simply giving up and moving on when it gets hard. We want to use our minds for critical thinking instead of just soaking up what the world says.

I don’t know if it’s worked exactly how we thought it would and certainly there are moments of chaos that happen in a simplified home. But I also know if we hadn’t done this there would never have been a boy curled up with a book beside me this morning, another strumming a guitar for hours on end, or yet another coming up with some magical culinary delights. (that smell delish!)

It’s also reinforced to our kids, we don’t always get right away or just because. They’ve learned to wait on things and see if they really matter to them before making a purchase. They’ve seen how quickly fads come and go and have been thankful for our minimalist approach at things and the money it’s saved them in the long run.

Minimalism isn’t everything. In fact, it’s not even the thing. What’s important is figuring out the values, the character traits, the activities, the mood and tones that are important to you and finding ways to bring them about instead of falling prey to whims and trends.

If you like this idea, start by making two lists.

  1. List 3 things you want to happen in your home. (music, reading, creativity, games, cooking, exercise – whatever is important to you)
  2. List 3 character traits you want to see develop in your kids. (kindness, perseverance, strength, commitment, hospitality – again, whatever is important to you)

Now think for a time on how these two work together and what you can do/change/foster in your home to bring them about. If you want perseverance – endless choices won’t bring it about. If you want creativity – gaming won’t foster that.

If you have any questions or comments about ways you do this in your home – I’d love to hear!

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Slow living and calmer mornings

As the seasons shift and new routines get put into practice, I’ve been wondering how I can hold on to some of the feelings summer brings. Summer has always been my favourite. I like sunshine and undone hair and flip flops and slow, unstructured days. Of course, those aren’t a reality all through the year – at least around these parts – but I wonder if I can hold onto just a bit of summer throughout the year. The parts that mean the most. (And I’m willing to try my hardest to make it so!)

My very favourite part of summer is the slow starts. Waking up and not having to dart out of bed and rush, rush, rush into the day. I like being able to lay in bed for a few minutes without a rolodex of to-do’s flipping through my mind.

I like to get up and make my coffee while everyone else is still sleeping. To sit outside on our covered deck and sip slow with a book or my bible in hand.

I like sleepy headed kids that saunter out with not a hint of frantic in their pace.

I know that mornings during school and work days can’t be exactly like that. But I do think I can adopt a few new practices to keep things slow. To not fall prey to the mad dash of the busy – at least for a bit of the morning.

So, this is what I tried on the first day of back to school for the kiddo’s and back to work work for me. I set my alarm for 45 minutes earlier than I would normally get up on a school/work morning. I know, I know. Some of you can’t handle the thought of losing 45 minutes of sleep or rolling out of bed while it’s still dark. I think it might be worth it. Even though it’s EARLY!

I think pace and tone are everything. I set both of these for my whole family in the morning. If I’m stressed, they feel it and become stressed too. If I’m rushing about like a crazy woman, they get a bit rattled and crazy too. But if I’m calm, they’re calm. If I’m pleasant and happy, they’re so much more pleasant and all around happier. Dare I say there’s even a feeling of joy – even though it’s morning and we’re all preparing for our day!

For the first 15 minutes I stayed in bed. Not falling back asleep and waking from the  snooze alarm again and again, but just laid there. I thought, I prayed, I told myself I didn’t need to be anywhere else just then but right where I was. Comfy and awake and just enjoying the moment. Y’know, like summer!

From there I mozied into the kitchen to make a coffee, grab a book and just like the summer mornings I love, I headed outside to cozy up in a chair and read. On a work and school morning! (Can you even believe it?!) I sipped my coffee, read some good words, watched a few hummingbirds dart in and out of our flowering trees and asked the Lord to prepare me for the day ahead.

By the time the clock hit my normal wake up time I had relaxed in bed, enjoyed my coffee, finished a chapter in my book and marvelled at nature. What a great start to the day!

I did it all week and I’m doing it again next week, too. I hope to keep it up all through the fall! Sitting outside felt weird and wonderful on a school/work morning. Almost like a guilty pleasure. Though there was nothing to feel guilty about. I hope I keep it up through the rainy months and even the snow. I have a feeling it might become something special and very possibly my very favourite part of the day. But I’ll report back when I’m more than one week in.

By the time we had to leave for school drop offs and for me to head into work, (this happens at 7:30 am) I had already thoroughly enjoyed my day! Do you think losing 45 minutes of sleep is worth it? Or does it sound crazy to you?

 

Mud Puddles of Pride and the Sludge of Self-Righteousness

C.S. Lewis has a famous quote that talks about us being content to play in mud puddles because we don’t understand, we can’t even comprehend, what a vacation at the sea may look like.

We were in San Diego for a few days (ironic, I know, considering I just wrote about how we almost never vacation) and we crossed from the downtown core to a beautiful little place known as Coronado Island. There’s a small ferry that shuttles you back and forth from hustle and bustle to Island living. Beach homes and adirondack chairs make up its landscape. Charming is barely enough of a word to describe it all.

As we docked island side there’s a small shoreline, a small patch of beach perhaps big enough for 5 families to set up and play. The boys found a spot, kicked off their flip flops and stepped into the water.

They were content. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of room to run and there were no waves to jump in. But there was sand and water and they were pretty sure this is what we said the day would entail, so with certainty they believed this was it.

We explained to them there was more. If we crossed through the small town to the exact opposite side, there was so much more.

Why? They wondered. There is sand and water right here. There’s sun and our family and all we need.

We convinced them no, we weren’t going to play in mud puddles when there was promise of a vacation at the sea. We’ve referenced this time and time again in our lives and so they understood. There had to be more waiting on the other side and sure enough, the beach for miles, the waves to frolic in and the space to spread out and run and play was endless. Of course, this was so much better than the tiny beach on the other side. But without someone telling them, how would they have known? Without someone who knew the promise guiding the way, why would they leave where they were? I mean, the tiny shoreline seemed good enough.

I think often about the mud puddles I may be sitting in just now. I wonder if I’m content to play in the mud when there is so much more my mind can’t even comprehend. Am I splashing along the tiny shoes of unneeded business, performance related achievement and needing the world to see that I can, in fact, do it all?

Am I sitting in the sludge of needing to impress? Who? I’m not quite certain.

Am I lying on the tiny beach of pride and wallowing along the shores of self-pity.

Am I trudging along the path of too many yes’s so as not to let anyone down, even though they rob me of the places my heart finds joy and my soul delights in.

I’m sure there are so many places I don’t even realize. Places I’m sitting, thinking – this is it, this is as good as it gets, this is accomplishment and happiness and life! When really, I just need someone to come along and say, step out of the mud puddle, little one. Follow me. There’s more life and more joy and more hope right along these other shores. Let’s just cross through town to somewhere new. Somewhere different. Somewhere you haven’t yet seen and somewhere your mind can’t even comprehend. I’ll show you. Follow me. I’ve got you.

Isn’t this what Jesus said to his disciples before they even knew they were his disciples. Hey, you fishermen over there who think this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life – put down those nets and follow me. Hey, you doctors and businessmen, you tax collectors and prostitues, you women and children and gentiles and all of you – put down all the ways you think are right and good and come and see what more I have for you over here. Come and see where there is life and rest and joy and peace. I know you can’t see it just yet and I know it doesn’t make any sense, but come.

John Piper challenges us with a similar concept in his famous “Don’t Waste Your Life” sermon. He says,

“…I know that not everybody in this crowd wants their life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you — you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell — if you could have that, you’d be satisfied even without God.

That is a tragedy in the making.”

Mary Oliver inspires with tingly feels as we read the words often emblazoned on coffee cups and tee shirts – Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

What will we do?

Where will we be content?

Who will we listen to?

Will we be content to sit in the puddles society tells us are it. The ones culture tells us we must sit in.

Or are we willing to step out of what we know, give up what we think is right, lay aside our nets of business and self-righteousness. Untangle the places where we find ourselves trapped in the self  indulgence of leisure and the gluttony of stuff. Wash off the thick mud of entitlement and what we feel we deserve and be washed with the fresh water of Jesus and the ways He calls us to.

His ways are crystal clear waters, vast ocean shores, springs that well up unending and perfect wine in new wineskins.

I dare us to dream together beyond the mud puddles. To see what’s on the other side of the island if we dare to try a different way.  Scripture calls it an upside down kingdom and yet – do we feel upside down just yet? Or just tossed to and fro.

Let’s journey together. Let’s pray for more than mud puddles. Let’s set aside our small visions and see what the Lord has outside of what we already know, the traditions our culture pushes us to buy into. Let’s pray the scary prayers and ask him to show us what our mud puddles are just now and the places He wants us to see anew. It’s terrifying, I know. But the promise of the ocean compared to puddles is yours and mine to have. Why wouldn’t we want that?

 

Vacations Don’t Build Memories, People Do. (and people are everywhere!)

There’s a social protocol heading into summer around these parts. We ask every person we meet the same questions. “Any plans for the summer?”

Most summers I fumble with niceties around our personal answer to this question. Oh, we’re just sticking around here. I mean, it’s so nice in the summer why would you leave?

But the truth is, we didn’t leave in the fall either. Or the winter, or subsequent spring. Most people gasp when we tell them we don’t vacation. But it’s true. We don’t.

This isn’t to say we’ve never vacationed. We have. As a family we’ve done a few vacations. My parents took us to Hawaii back when there were just 4 of us and our kids were very tiny. My mom took us to Disneyland the Christmas after my dad died and we road rollercoasters on Christmas Day instead of having turkey dinner with an empty seat at the table. Only once in our history have we paid for a family vacation. We went to Whistler. Which is under 3 hours away. This was big for us!

Of course we’re endlessly thankful we have family with property we can camp on only 20 minutes from home. It’s what we’ve done every summer for the past 17 years. A few days surrounded with trees 20 minutes away. It’s glorious. And we’ve done a night in a close by city here and there so it’s not like we never go ANYwhere. We move within a 2 hour radius. ha

But people look at us dumbfounded. You NEVER vacation? They ask, staring.

Um…nope. Not really.

But what about family memories? What about relationship building? What about relaxation?

I contend that if a week on a beach is what it takes to build memories then the state of our families are in trouble. Memory making is more than a hashtag on an instagramable photo. Memories are something built daily in our family. Our kids don’t ever feel deprived for not having seen vast parts of the world via vacation (they have seen parts of the world for the purpose of missions work) and we certainly don’t feel like the strength of our family has been weakened by never experiencing a cruise ship buffet or staring at the Mona Lisa together.

Would all of those things be wonderful? Probably. But are they necessary for memory making? Not a chance. (This is my point, people. I’m not judging where you went this summer)

Of course I’m not implying that family vacations are a terrible thing. Of course they aren’t. We have our reasons for not taking them which revolve around how we spend our finances, the timing of being self-employed and most importantly, what we speak and practice in our daily life and walk with God lining up with how we spend our time off. We simply don’t want to operate one way in ‘normal’ life and another way on vacation. I know every families ways are different and I’m simply sharing ours – not judging yours. (Can you tell I’m feeling like some opposition may come?)

In our home we decided well over a decade ago that if we believe what we say we believe, then it meant our lives would involve sacrifice. We started in small ways including our boys in what this would look like. For example, if we are going to fund the schooling for a small child in a poor country – what were we willing to give up so that we could do this. We’re called to give sacrificially and that’s what we wanted to impress upon our children.

We all agreed it would be juice. If we stopped buying juice in our home or juice boxes for lunches it would add up to enough to have a sponsor child. And those funds, from our children’s sacrifice of juice, could pay for another child’s meals and clothes and education. So, we gave up juice.

There have been many other ways we’ve done this over the years. It’s become a normal part of our family culture, assessing what giving looks like and wondering what we can sacrifice to do so. It’s influenced many of our family decisions, including where we live, foster care and how we vacation.

But back to the question of no vacations and building family memories.

When we look back with our boys over their lives there are things I want them to remember more than a monument or a certain city or how great a tan they got on vacation. Memories don’t just happen away from home. In fact, we want their strongest ones to include our home – the place we spend our most amount of time.

I want them to remember the kitchen table that we sat around. How we ate dinner together and told ridiculous stories. How we played games and laughed our faces off. How Mom and Dad got in a fight over Monopoly and have decided never to play together again – because we like being married. How there were always extra people at the table, another plate added, another table grabbed from the garage. I want them to remember sitting atop the table while I cooked dinner and they played guitar, or peppered me with questions, or we chatted about that thing that happened at school that day.

When they look back at our family memories I want them to remember important conversations that happened in our ‘coffee shop’. I want them to remember how we challenged them, how we cried alongside them, how we read the bible together here in these chairs, how we prayed on these couches more often than we can count about things we were so thrilled about, things that terrified us, and things that had our eyes stinging with the threat of tears. How we yelled and said all of the wrong things and then sought forgiveness in the very same spot.

When they look back I want them to remember the smells of home, the ritual of bedtime, the feelings of safety and love. I want them to remember our mistakes, how mom would go into rant mode and they might as well just listen until she was finished. I want them to remember the jokes that came later about that very same rant and the apologies that followed and the explanations that we don’t have a clue how to do this parenting thing right, but thank the Lord we have prayer and forgiveness.

I want our memories to be the journey together. The calm of reading books aloud. The jokes about Dad always taking forever to make a coffee before we could begin. The music that we sing loud to even though not one of us can sing on key.

Vacations don’t build memories, people do. Intentional practices do. Laughing together does. Taking time to enjoy one another will. Fighting and making up can. This can happen on the other side of the world, sure, but it can just as easily happen across the street at the park, or in your very own living room. The culture we’ve built into our home, the way we live our every day lives, is what we want our kids to remember most.

So if you can’t afford to vacation, be encouraged. Build memories into your every day and your kids will be just fine.

If you can afford to vacation, be challenged. How do you spend your time, money and energy while you’re away. Does it line up with the things you preach and practice at home? Or does it suddenly become all about self?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Don’t Just Act Like You Know Where You’re Going

I recently had the privilege of sitting in a meeting with someone 4 bajillion times smarter than I am. I’m not kidding. This woman knew stuff.

I use to find myself quite nervous in situations where I knew there was a vast chasm between my knowledge base and that of the person I was talking to. My mind would tell me I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or have enough letters behind my name. (FYI: I have zero) My posture would overcompensate for my lack of college degrees and I would follow the advice a random stranger gave me while I was wandering the streets of Chicago with my camera many moons ago.

“Just act like you know where you’re going. Act like you have every purpose to be where you are and you’ll be fine.”

It hadn’t crossed my mind to be worried about where I was going but clearly the gentleman saw a naive girl nearing territory she may not want to be in and felt compelled to warn her. I thanked him and stuck to the main streets from then on.

Act like you know where you’re going might be decent advice when you’re lost and don’t want to fumble in dark alleys with a map. I can see that. But as far as wisdom for life, I’ve come to learn it’s pretty terrible.

If we pretend like we know where we’re going, how on earth do we know where we’ll end up?

If being in a certain place at a certain time is all about acting like I belong there, faking it to fit in, impersonating those who’ve figured it out – then all I do is a sham.

I know it sounds high school-esque and trying to get in with the popular crowd but it goes so far beyond that. I know, we like to believe we’ve advanced as we head out into the real world post graduation, but how often have we soaked in the culture of a work place and made it our mission to fit in. Or maybe we’ve taken part in a bible study and been worried about speaking out loud for fear our words might not be big enough or christian enough for those listening. We stay silent until we know which words the culture in that room uses and then we spout forth our wisdom once we know we’ll get it right, once we’ve assimilated enough.

It can happen in any setting even as adults. We like to fit it, to belong, to be a part of and this can become a lot of acting when our minds or our hearts don’t know the right notes to sing with a particular group just yet. We’re not so great at harmonizing with a crowd, each of us taking on our part. Instead we long to sing the same note that everyone else is singing because at least that way we don’t stand out quite so much if we happen to get our part wrong.

Over the years I’ve learned that the older I get the less I actually know. Turns out, the less I know the more I need to learn and the more I need to learn the more open I had better be to dropping the disguise and getting on with the business of asking questions.

If I take one man’s advice and act like I know where I’m going, sure it might keep me safe this time. But is it not wisdom, rather, to ask some questions and learn which path I should actually be on? Isn’t that what will keep me safe in the long run.

It’s taken time but I find myself rarely intimidated by those who possess much greater wisdom than I do. Instead, I want to sidle up next to them and ask them all of the questions I have no answers to. I want to sit with them for hours and pick all of the facets of their minds and hearts and like a toddler pepper them with a thousand, “but why’s.”

If we look at the world, our country, our cities, our schools, our churches, our neighbours, our spouses and our kids and we stop pretending like we know where we’re going and in humility admit we don’t have all of the answers does it not force us to ask a few more questions? To find the people who know more and ask them why without simply assimilating for the sake of looking smart or fitting in or whatever our excuse is. Would we not know so much more if we opened our hearts to hear some answers as to why instead of waxing poetically all the live long day but never really understanding the truth.

Before I left the meeting with the woman whose mind knew so many things, I looked her straight in the face, craving one last nugget of truth, and asked, “Do you have any more wisdom for me?”

“No,” she said. “But if you have any more questions you may ask.”

I laughed. Of course she didn’t. She had already given me everything I needed. Because sometimes there’s no need to belabour a thing you’ve already been given the answer to.

She told me to walk forward in confidence. Right. I could use a dose of that just now. I’m learning the pattern, slowly slowly slowly learning the pattern. Obstacle. Humble heart. Ask questions. Petition God. Rely on His Spirit. Move forward in confidence. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,

his righteousness live in the fertile field.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;

its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

Isaiah 32: 16-17

(Read the whole chapter for context here)

A Life of Ease is Not My Prayer

Many months ago we started the plan in motion and prayed that the Lord’s will be done. Francis Chan says in one of his books (though I will butcher it in my paraphrase) that as Christians we ought to assume that we are to do the things that God commands. He says to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27) and so we just should. We don’t need to wait for it to ‘feel right’ but rather we ought to walk forward because it’s what He tells us to do in scripture. Of course, He can stop us in our tracks and change our course if He sees fit. But that’s His job – not ours. Ours is obedience.

Our plan was to head somewhere as a family with the purpose of serving the poor, using our hands, our voice and whatever else God has gifted us with. We explored options and landed on a small town in Mexico.

I know short term missions trips have gained a bad reputation in recent years. There are books and blogs written about when helping hurts and story after story about trips that become poverty tourism and not service at all. I don’t know the logistics of all of these things. Quite honestly, it’s beyond my scope of understanding. I do know that there are great organizations who need many things – one of which is hands on deck. We found one and prepared for our journey.

I struggled with how to prepare, exactly. Oh, packing was the easy part but how do we ready our eyes to see things they’ve never seen before. How do we ready our minds to comprehend what we’re seeing and our ears to hear stories that feel altogether too much. Most importantly, how on earth do we prepare our hearts. What do we pray? I found myself completely lost.

The Lord brought Psalm 107 to my heart and I read it over and over again. Throughout this Psalm, time and time again the people are brought to the end of themselves through various trials. In each situation, when they come to the end of themselves is when they cry out to the Lord in their trouble and time and time again it says that He saved them from their distress.

My soul felt compelled to pray simply that each member of our family would be brought to the end of ourselves so that we might cry out to God and the work would be His. That we would feel so beyond our capabilities that we had nowhere to turn but to Him. That we could take no credit for anything we did but all of the glory would be His.

It can be scary to pray hard things for our families. For our very lives to be challenged. My heart longs to pray that my kids be comfortable and their life be easy. But I know full well that in times of ease I learn very little and rely on my own strength very much. But in times of trouble, where can we turn? In times of calamity, what choice do we have? When our efforts are exhausted and our mouths are parched and our knuckles bloody and bruised, we can no longer walk in our own strength, but rely solely on His. This is what I prayed.

My husband was heading home on his last day of work before we left and he got only ten minutes up the highway when lights started flashing on his dash and shortly thereafter I got the call. Vehicle not running. Tow truck required. Help?

What terrible timing. Does he not know I have my own work to finish up? And packing to do? And many important things that need to happen? What a nuisance. I can’t believe it. We don’t have time for this!

But when we’re troubled where do we turn?

My son had one more day of work the following day and  we awoke to a call at 2 am saying that we needed to get right down to where he was. He had hurt himself. I heard the word stitches. My husband got up and headed out and I figured they’d be back in a few hours. At 6 am I stirred and there was still no sign of them. At 7 am I got a call. Stitches, yes. But also, he’s lost mobility in part of his finger. I heard the word surgery. It all got foggy.

Are you kidding me? We hop on a plane tomorrow. What terrible timing! We don’t have time for 13 hours in the E.R. Our plans don’t have room for surgery. We’re trying to serve your people, Lord. Now we may not be able to go?

When we’re in distress where do we turn?

Our trip hadn’t even begun and the Lord was bringing us to the end of ourselves. He was forcing us to our knees and showing us in no uncertain terms that we need Him. We can make all of the plans that we want. We can do all of the laundry. We can buy the plane tickets, and we should. But the Lord decides whether we go.

It’s an illusion to think that we accomplish such things on our own, and I have the worst form of this delusion. I’m organized and efficient and have lists of all of my lists. But the Lord, in all of His graciousness, began to answer my prayers before we even left home.

We would accomplish nothing without utter reliance on Him. We wouldn’t even make it on the plane without Him. We left broken, we left injured, we left stitched and medicated. We left tired and worried and processing all of the emotion of what had just happened.

We left at the end of ourselves and crying out to the Lord in our trouble. He saved us from our distress.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

Psalm 107:8 (and 15 and 21 and 31)

When We Thought We Knew Everything

I see 20 year olds now and from this vantage point they look like babies. But on this morning 20 years ago, at 20 years old, I awoke in my bedroom in my parents house and set about with the primping – preparing to marry the man of my dreams.

This year it’s official – I’ve been married longer than I was not married.

When I think of the first 20 years of my life it feels like so much more changed. From tiny baby to toddler to riding a bike on my very own. School and then high school, and sports and clubs. I learned to speak, to feed myself, to be a friend, to drive….plus all of the words to some pretty terrible salt n’ peppa songs.

It’s hard to think that anything can top the learning curve of the first 20 years of life. But I dare say I’ve learned just as much in the second 20 years simply by being married.

Sure I already knew how to talk but I certainly wasn’t a good communicator. I might have known how to be a friend but I knew nothing about being a wife. I’m going to bet I’ve even become a better driver. And learned to appreciate better music.

The learning curve hasn’t stopped even for a second.

Of course I set off into marriage thinking I knew all. We knew exactly what our life was going to look like and of course we knew exactly how we were going to raise our kids. Expertly, I might add.

But that first year was an eye opener of so many kinds. While setting up home was fun and cooking together was always interesting, we were caught up in our own selfishness. We were blinded by our own expectations of the other – sometimes even of ourselves. We had no idea how to serve the other above ourselves, let alone communicate our wants or needs.

Did we have some fun? Of course.

Was the world our oyster and everyone a tad bit dumber than us? Yes and amen.

I couldn’t have believed it at the time – all of those ‘old’ couples who told us it only gets better. How could it? Time only means more responsibilities, children who drain you financially, bad hair and an even worse wardrobe!

No, life at 20 and marriage in year one was where it was at. Earl’s Restaurant cooking us dinner pretty much nightly, movies and concerts whenever we wanted, skateboarding around the city to get where we needed to go. What could be better?

Turns out it really does get better with time. Because above the need to be cool we now totally get that we’re not and are 100% good with that. In fact, we’re happy to be the ‘old’ people now telling other couples that it only gets better. Because there’s a knowing behind our smiles now. A knowing that the vows we said when we had no idea what life would look like were actually ones kept. It’s easy to say richer or poorer when you’ve never been poorer. And it’s simple to think you’ll stay in sickness and health when there’s never been an illness beyond a cold. We scoffed at the better or worse because it would always be better but, my oh my, did we learn that there was going to be a worse.

And yet – here we are. Having waded through muck and mire, seasons of storms, and so much more. We still look at each other and smile – though we smirk a little more now. Sometimes we downright laugh at all of the things we thought we knew and where God has brought us today. It’s a life we could never have dreamed.

The beauty comes in having lived the good, the bad and the ugly together and still being able to walk away holding hands. The best parts of marriage are realizing that you don’t have to win or be right, but that we can totally disagree and still love and respect each other unendingly. The mystery comes from realizing we have a few more wrinkles, a less hip wardrobe, 4 teenagers that suck every one of our resources away and yet we still have love, in fact, an even deeper love, respect and appreciation for each other.

If we’ve learned this much in 20 years I simply can’t wait to see what the next 20 hold. We still have so far to go!

Gary Thomas says that cherishing is seeking to enhance the life of the other in both big and small ways. I can’t wait until we rock at that. We try. But so often we’re tired or stressed or still a li’l bit selfish. It’s our year 20 goal. Enhance each others life in small ways. We already do it in so many ways but we want to do it even more.

Because we can’t wait to be 60 with even more wrinkles, a worse wardrobe and yet still look at each other and smirk because those 40 year olds who think they’ve got it all together? Well, they look like babies now.

Here’s to 20 more, my love! You are not my everything. I hope you never will be. I can’t wait to get my first grandma perm and to see you wear your first pair of suspenders. Walking this path of life with you is the best gift.

 

When School Isn’t Made For Your Kid

Early in his school years a teacher stated to my son that if he didn’t sit down on his chair, which he never did, she would take it away. He said, “Okay!” handed in his chair and continued to happily stand for the remainder of the year.

In seventh grade he failed to tell me there were any sort of sign ups for sports. It wasn’t until nearly Christmas when I clued in he was fairly free after school and there hadn’t been any sort of after school sign ups. When asked about it he said, “Oh yeah. I didn’t sign up. I don’t want to play sports.”

When the other kids were outside running around the neighbourhood my boy was filming them with a video camera. When they went inside for dinner, he took his spot behind the computer screen and edited it all into a little montage complete with title sequence and closing credits.

His days were spent writing scripts for plays that he could never rally enough kids to actually participate in. His nights were spent with his nose buried deep in books.

In eighth grade he begged for piano lessons.

All along I couldn’t help but think – who is this kid? While I loved every facet of what he was doing and the creative things he was pouring himself into, I also worried. Because kids need an outlet and when the outlet is creativity and not sports, they don’t necessarily fit in naturally at school.

I’m so thankful for a teacher who told me, when he was still so young, this kid of mine – he was an outside the box thinker and school wouldn’t necessarily be the place he shone. She understood a regular sit, read, answer questions curriculum didn’t resonate with him, though we also agreed sometimes you have to do the things you don’t love in order to learn important facts.

She told me to get him through. Don’t worry myself too much with grades. He’ll do big things once he’s out of school and off in the world where there is more to explore out from the confines of a desk. Where there’s a place for diving into your passions, creating things that are beautiful and where you might even find a few more people who think like you do.

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That teacher saved me from years of questioning my parenting with her words. She clarified what I couldn’t. She told me that he would go places, that he would find his niche, probably a bit later in life because the younger school world didn’t cater to this type of kid.

I wrapped those words up as a gift and kept giving them to myself whenever I needed them. Whenever I worried about him. Whenever I felt like he just didn’t fit in.

Through middle school he stayed inside and read novels through lunch. He poured through Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and dove into cult favourites like A Wrinkle in Time, The Outsiders and soaked up characters like Holden Caufield in A Catcher in the Rye. I couldn’t keep up with his reading so I finally just had to let him troop on and choose what he liked.

Friends in the arts assured me that he’d be okay. As long as he had an outlet.

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He found his outlet in writing. Every single night we’d find him curled up somewhere frantically typing out a new story. Or adding to his novel. Or casually saying, “Hey Mom, want to read my new poem?”

When your kid doesn’t fit the mould, when they don’t fit into categories of ‘normal’ or just do what all of their peers are doing, it can be difficult as a parent. We can wonder if they’re going to be okay. We can question if we’ve done it all wrong. We can fear for their future.

17 1/2 years into this deal I’ve learned that he will be okay. I learned early that there’s nothing wrong with him.  I learned to stop trying to make him answer questions the way I thought they should be answered. I learned that I didn’t need to explain why he wasn’t in sports to other parents.  I learned not to worry because he’s different then his peers. It can be a hard place to parent a kid who’d rather discuss the latest character in a novel he’s read than the latest comic book hero and who thinks his generation is being ruined by every selfie posted and every meme made.

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At 17 he doesn’t understand his generation. He feels like he’s been born in the wrong era and yet he knows that God made him for just such a time as this. To have no social media accounts in a world of snapchat. To write books in a sea of video game obsessed children. To wear jeans with rips made because he doesn’t care about fashion and his jeans have literally worn threadbare, not because rips are cool and so he needs the latest trends.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that he’d want out of high school as quickly as possible and that he’d choose to graduate early and get out of the place he deems all drama and narcissism. And it shouldn’t surprise me that he didn’t attend his graduation ceremony two nights ago when he should have been donning cap and gown and received his diploma.

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“I don’t understand festivities,” was his answer. “So I finished classes I was supposed to finish – why does that need a celebration?”

So I have no photo of him walking across that stage or in his school colours and I’m totally fine with it. Because to have a kid like him, one who doesn’t follow the crowd, one who maintains strong convictions of who he is and what he believes, one who doesn’t care if everyone is doing it or not – well, that’s something special.

It’s such a privilege to raise each of our kids, mamas and dads – no matter what they’re like. Sure there are days we don’t get it, there are times we wish they would have said something different in public, there may even be times we’ve been embarrassed – but looking back at what I’ve learned from him and what I’m continuing to learn every day – I wouldn’t change it for anything.

 

 

When We’re Short on Time but Big on Love

My husband snuck into the house late last night. It’s been that sort of season. So much work. Travel. On set shoots. Long days. Little sleep. Even less time at home.

I rolled over but I couldn’t lift my head off of my pillow to greet him properly. This many days of single parenting and keeping up with the schedules of 4 teenagers takes a toll. A toll that means once I crawl into bed I’m not moving for a solid 8 hours. (don’t judge. some of us like our sleep!)

It’s not how we like our schedules to be. The visions of happiness in my mind look more like kneading bread dough on the counter, growing vegetables in our own soil, writing with pen and paper and long drawn out talks around the fire late into the night.

These days, however, look more like frozen pizza and a bag of baby carrots, quick text messages with all of the abbreviations possible, and Cole’s notes versions of all of the things we want to share.

It may not look exactly how we want life to be just now, but we’ve also been married long enough to know that these seasons don’t last forever. They show up with force, barging their way in and then they slowly mosey along and leave the door swinging behind them.

The thing is – what’s a couple supposed to do in the meantime?

One day together in the last eight is not the best streak. Most days we aren’t even able to see each others eyes (either because we’re not in the same city, or because mine are already closed!)  And yet we know that in order for our family to maintain its strength, integrity and any semblance of sanity – we need to stay connected – the hubs and I.

We’ve figured out a few ways that work for us, thank the Lord, and while they aren’t as good as Saturday morning coffee in bed, or long walks along dusty trails under a canopy of trees, they do what we need them to do in this particular season of crazy.

What do we do? We rely fully and completely on technology!

I know you’ll find a thousand articles online stating that communication through technology is not true connection. But when there are no other options for a married couple to talk – I contend it beats letter writing and waiting 2 weeks for our thoughts to arrive!

So we text constantly. Of course there are good mornings and good night’s but there’s also everything in between. There are quick questions about home details or kid schedules or weekend plans. There are long paragraphs about what we’re thinking about or going through at the moment. There are one liners of encouragement when we know the other is in a tough spot. There are apologies for the irritated tone we got the day before. There are prayers lifted up, inside jokes thrown back and forth and basketball games watched ‘together’ though we aren’t together at all.

I can’t even explain what a gift this is to our marriage. When hubs is at work and I’m working/kid driving/all of the other things – we can’t very often sync up times to actually talk for more than 4 minutes. But texting back and forth gives us opportunity to reply when we can and feel connected all day long.

This constant way of staying connected to my husband has given me a new picture of what scripture means when it tells us to, “pray without ceasing.”  I could never grasp just exactly what that meant – how can we be constantly in prayer and yet live life? But I think I get it just a little bit more. Because while I’m not endlessly on my phone texting my husband, I am constantly in communication with him, whether listening or reading what he has to say, or formulating my own thoughts back. The action isn’t the unceasing part, the mode of the heart is. So I would say that, “I text with my husband all day!” But of course that doesn’t mean I’m texting every second. In the same way, I think we’re called to be constantly in connection with our Heavenly Father. Does that mean our mouths can never speak a word to another human and interrupt our prayers? Of course not. It means that our hearts and minds are always turned to Him in everything that we’re doing. The same way my heart is staying connected to my husband when we aren’t in the same city or province!

I know our lists probably look different but I’m sure you’ve been in a season of busy, as well. What do you do to foster connection with your spouse when you’re just not getting tons of face time together?

 

Small Changes Matter

I learned something about myself last week that I’m sure everyone around me already knew.

I like routine, order and structure. I like systems and rules.

To this my family gave a collective – uh, we know! You had to go to a workshop to learn THAT?!

It’s interesting when we have others pinpoint things about ourselves though because sometimes our actions and minds and passions and wants line up and sometimes they don’t.

Let me just tell you, it’s not easy having a creative mind that craves routine. Often artists thrive on chaos and are moved to inspiration at the oddest times. My best work comes when things are planned, when I have set aside time and order surrounds me.

So what does this mean for my life? Well, it means that I’m not prone to making drastic moves, grand goals or casting major visions that I feel I can’t attain. Instead, I find my happy place – the place I feel and thrive best – is when I make small changes that I implement for the long haul.

Practically this means that while I can’t afford organic meat for our tribe of 4 teenagers – I can consult the dirty dozen list and implement food change in the areas of worst offence.

It means I’m not going to do a 7 day juice cleanse but I love incorporating 2 veggie-heavy, wheat grass/probiotic/spirulina filled drinks into my daily routine.

It means that I make small changes every now and then and I work them out until they just become part of the routine and don’t feel like a big deal.

I did the same when it came to finding products that are toxin and carcinogen free for our home. I couldn’t immediately throw out all of our furniture, but I could invest in safe cleaning products and safe beauty products.

This month is my one year anniversary of using Beautycounter!

In case you don’t know what that means – Beautycounter is a line of beauty products that puts our health and safety first. Before profit, before quick product release, before everything! They’re main purpose is to ensure that everyone has access to safe products that we use everyday.

And in my typical fashion, did I instantly change all of my products? No. Because I was already using some (emphasis on the some!) great ones – but the ones that weren’t great, I switched up.

People often feel overwhelmed as to where to start on a journey to a less chemical-laden life and I think the best way is to just start with one thing and make it normal. Once you’ve got that down – find the next thing and change that. It’s the little changes over time that add up to make a real difference rather than doing a “clean” binge and then going back to fast food after a few weeks.

To celebrate one year of safe make-up and skin care I thought I’d answer the most popular question I get. What are your top 5 products if you could only change that many.

The first two are super simple: change your cleanser and your moisturizer. These are things we use twice each day. That’s 4 x a day that we’re rubbing potentially harmful chemicals into our skin. Simply change two items and you’re on your way.

Looking to change just one thing?

The next 3 are a toss up as to the order but are hands down my best Beautycounter switches and the products I love the most.

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While I’m thrilled with the products, my biggest goal is to share the information about safe products with more and more people. As I was inching close to my year anniversary of being with Beautycounter I thought – what do I want?

The truth is, I want more people to be using safe products. I want people to be educated about what’s in the stuff they’re buying off the shelves at their local stores and I want women to know that these things do affect our health and the health of our families. Does this mean using only Beautycounter? No! It means being smart about our choices. Beautycounter is just the easiest way I’ve found to cover all my beauty basics with one company.

And in case you were wondering – the products aren’t just safe – they’re awesome!

If safer products are something you love – why not share about it with a friend? Your Mom? Your Grandma? Your co-workers? Your Mommy group? You can be as big of a part of the mission as I am. Spread the word for the health of the people you love. Educate one another on the things we’re doing in life to battle cancers and hormone disruption and the many other things toxic chemicals can cause.

It’s been one year and my skin has never been better – but more than that – I’m not worried for a second about what’s soaking in to my families skin. And that’s worth everything.

If you want more information on any of these things, send me a message! I love helping people navigate the oft-overwhelming waters and because I’m passionate about it – I could talk about it all day!

p.s. if you’re interested in joining my team – drop me a line here!