Thursday, 30 June 2016

Love is .. amazing.

Amazing love I don't understand
Amazing grace I can't comprehend
Amazing mercy beyond my knowing

Love so that I may live
Live so that I may learn
Learn so that I may share

Giving away and I gain more
Choosing to surrender
      Becoming free to choose
Dying just to live again
      Living a life of love

Only when I can't see
Can I believe?
Tell me the story

Story of Amazing Love

Happy Canada Day! I'm off to love my family.. .

Monday, 27 June 2016

Love and Respect

They say a woman's greatest need is to be loved, and a man's greatest need is to be respected. While this isn't necessarily true in all cases, to some degree or another, it probably is true in most. But the definitions of "love" and "respect" differ from person to person, and in relationships, what may be "loving" to one person is actually "disrespectful" to another.

To define "love" and "respect", especially in a relationship, takes thought and care. I highly recommend Gary Smalley's book, "The 5 Love Languages", for a great discussion on the definitions of love. In brief, he suggests that everyone speaks a different "love language", that is, a different way of receiving and giving love. And if one person, especially in a couple, receives love in a drastically different way than their partner, there's a definite disconnect in those loving feelings we all look for.

The five main love languages include: physical touch (hugs, kisses, holding hands, etc), words (appreciation, compliments, etc), time (long conversations, doing things together, etc), service (doing a chore for the other person, holding the door, etc), and gifts (flowers, cards, jewellry, etc). To some degree, we all see these things as love, but the things you prefer most -- and the things you instinctively want to do for another you care for  -- are your personal love language. So if your first thought is to buy your partner a gift to show them how much you care, then your love language is probably gifts.

There's a problem when you like to give gifts, but don't necessarily spend a lot of time with the other person, and all they want to do is have a long conversation with you. You'll see their need to talk as a nuisance, and they'll see your gifts as inappropriate and insincere. Recognition of the different ways to express and needs to receive love will save a lot of difficult conversations and hurt feelings over misunderstandings.

However, I think there's the same kind of communication issues when it comes to the issue of respect. The common definition of respect is the idea of giving value to something or someone, or recognizing worth or honor. But how you give value or recognize worth depends on the same things that people give love.

I would suggest that respect is given in many different ways: courtesy (manners, etiquette, etc), deference (giving place to another, preferring them over yourself, etc), recognition (appreciation, awards, asking for advice, etc), attention (listening when they speak, watching for and asking their preferences), and consideration (keeping your promises, not assuming anything about them, being on time, protecting their space/time/possessions as your own).  Unlike the love languages, these aren't instinctive, but are often based on cultural or family-of-origin teaching. And again, unlike the love languages, there probably isn't one or two primarily preferred ways of showing respect, but that everyone wants respect, in an hierarchical form based on the degree of intimacy in your relationship.

Forms of respect are hierarchical in nature. The proverb is trespect is earned.  And this is true, to a large degree, though everyone deserves the respect due them based on the simple fact of Imageo Deo -- that they are image-bearers of God.

In fact, that is the bottom of the ladder of respect: courtesy.  Courtesy is that polite treatment of everyone you interact with, regardless of creed or color, status or gender, that most people learn at an early age from mom. It's saying "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me". It's holding the door open, or smiling. This kind of respect is the basic human
kindness that we should be showing everyone.

Unfortunately, all too many times its lost to prejudice. Whether racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, or some other "ism", if there is an antagonism based on another person's birth circumstances, appearance or beliefs, there will not be respect. Bigotry robs everyone of the respect they're due, simply because they are human. It stems from a lack of value on human life. When we don't even value life itself, then even the most basic courtesies are conditional, when they shouldn't be.

Deference is that form of respect that we give to those we are in nominal relationship with. These are the people that surround us --  extended family, neighbours, fellow members of church, gym or clubs, the parents of your children's friends, your boss and co-workers. This is the kind of respect that gives honor. It's letting them ahead of you in line at the potluck or social gathering. It's not passing judgement on others' choices, refraining from gossip or sharing of confidences. It's being agreeable (when there is no cost to agreeing) -- things like the choice of restaurant or music. It's graciousness and generosity. This kind of respect is the humble giving over to another, treating them as of equal or more value than yourself.

The danger here is to walk the fine line of agreeableness without agreeing to things that are wrong. It can also be problematic to be so generous that people end up taking advantage of you. Respect doesn't enable sin. However, you can still be respectful and disagree without giving offense.

The next form of respect is recognition. This kind of respect gives public honor to those who have earned it. This is the kind of respect we all think of when we think of showing respect. It can be as simple as a gentleman standing in the presence of a lady, or removing a hat while the national anthem is sung. It's the kind of respect that leads to banquets to recognize achievements or awards given to people who have performed special service. Recognition is the most public form of respect, but is often at a distance. And often, the respect of recognition is given to the office or title, rather than the person themselves.

The biggest issue with recognition as respect is ensuring that it's sincere. We can often go through the motions and mouth recognition without actually having the respect behind it. Especially when the respect is due the title of the person, such as a president, mayor, or pastor, and the person themselves aren't actually worthy of the respect due to character defects or immoral behaviour, it can be very difficult to give genuine recognition.

The higher forms of respect are those we give the ones that we are more intimate with. First, attention, which is simply what it says: giving one's full attention to the person we are in relationship with. It's paying attention when they talk, actually listening to what they say. It's paying attention to what they like and dislike, and taking the time to ask their preference. It's a carefulness about how you treat them, more than just basic courtesy, but an extension of that. This attentive respect is making their coffee the way they like it, or showing interest in their hobby. To the degree you pay attention, you show how much you value your relationship with them.

Carelessness can destroy this kind of respect. It can be hard work to pay attention consistently. When you show  disregard for someone's preferences, or zone out during their conversation, you show how little you value that person.

The highest form of respect is consideration. Consideration is as much about how much you respect yourself as the other person. This kind of respect is having the character to keep your promises, to respect another's time and space, to have integrity. This is showing up on time for dinner, and calling when you are leaving. It's about sharing your plans and including others. Its about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It's a thoughtfulness that marks your relationship as special. It's the Golden Rule: treating others the way you would want to be treated. When you are considerate, you show all the other forms of respect - courtesy, deference, recognition and attention - only taken up a degree in kindness and generosity.

Deliberate disdain will kill consideration. Respect is all about showing how much you value someone. Thoughtlessness and neglect devalue those you say you care for the most. When you are heedless of the effects on other people, it's a lack of respect for those people. Being consistently late -- not because of a lack of time management skills, but because you don't care about their plans or needs shows great disrespect. Taking their things -- their clothes or food, for example -- without regard to their wishes, is complete disregard of your relationship with someone. You show just how much you care about someone by how considerate you are of them.

Love languages are important. But if you truly love someone, you'll show them great respect.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Scary words and Sweet Relief

"We found a mass in your daughter's abdomen."

Scariest words a mother can hear.  Your mind instantly thinks "tumor" and "cancer" and serious, even life-threatening, certainly life-changing diagnoses. It's even more scary when its said seemingly out of the blue, with no warning, and no expectation of anything.

It started with a new pediatrician. As our journey with my 2nd daughter, my light of joy, continues -- through psychological testing, genetic profiling and more specialists -- we were referred to a new pediatrician. We met her at the end of May, and I quite liked her. She had read the file I had sent on for my daughter. She asked pertinent questions, she listened, and she quietly observed my baby girl for the better part of an hour. At the end of the conversation, she did a physical exam, and ordered further testing, including bloodwork and an ultrasound.

I thought the ultrasound an odd request, but shrugged it off. Doctors are often curious, and in Canada, at least, we have "free" publicly-paid health care. So it was simply setting up the appointment to get the test done, with no real cost to me.

I made the appointment for a Saturday morning. That way my ex-husband could watch our other children while I was with this one. She handled the ultrasound well, especially given how ticklish she can be in that area, and despite the awkward positions. The bloodtests were harder to get, but we managed.

Monday morning, the pediatrician called me. (Another reason I'm very impressed -- she called me personally with the results of the test!) She told me that the ultrasound had shown a 5 cm mass on or near my daughter's kidney, and they weren't sure what it was. She said that she wanted another exam, and was ordering a CT scan as soon as possible.

After I hung up the phone, I was in shock. Literally shaking. I've been through lots of hard things before, but this ranked up there with the scariest things. I don't think I've been that scared in years. I was absolutely terrified for my daughter.

I called my ex, and my parents to let them know this new development. Then it was just a matter of waiting. It was a couple of very nervous days to wait. But Wednesday we got our appointment -- Friday morning. (A third reason I am liking this new pediatrician -- she get things done fast!!)

Friday morning, my ex husband came over, and drove us to the hospital. He was again "babysitting" so I could be with our daughter for her appointment. We found our way through the maze of hospital wings and got to the right spot. The nurses were awesome with her, and gave us a private room where my daughter could be away from people and watch videos on my phone. They wanted her to drink a lot of fluid, and they had to put an IV in for a contrast dye before the scan. The IV was awful. She nearly had  meltdown and was ready to pull it out again herself, but we did get her calmed down.

She did really well with the scan itself. The technicians had showed her how the machine worked, and gave her a couple of test runs before the actual scan. I was able to be in the room with her for the test, and she held my hands. The first two pictures they took were before they added the dye, and then finally the nurse came in to inject the contrast dye into her IV. Again, that nearly undid everything, but like a trooper she was able to let them get it all done and the last picture taken.

We went back to the room we'd been in before, and she was impatient about getting the IV out. But the nurse was great and distracted her with chatter while taking it out and finally it was done. We left the hospital and went home again.

Waiting for test results all weekend was also a nerve-wracking time, but I turned nerves into energy and rearranged my house (lol! Amazing what you get done when you need a distraction!)

Monday morning, 9 am, the phone rang. (Have I mentioned how much I am really liking this pediatrician??) The nurse explained exactly what they found. It wasn't a tumor. Rather, my daughter has a serious (but completely treatable!!) case of constipation. Apparently this is rather common in children like my daughter. Between the sensory issues, the lack of understanding and the developmental delays, she is either not able to, or is holding back on going regularly.

You can't imagine my relief. The answer was gross, but simple. And treatable. There are going to be some lifestyle changes, particularly diet changes for my daughter, but with medication and careful monitoring, this is a problem we can fix.

There are lots of parents who don't get the same results I did. They get told the scary-sounding words like "cancer" and "surgery" and "chances of survival." I'm very grateful that our story is different, but I'm also incredibly conscious of the fact that life can change at any moment.

For a while at least, I think I'll just love on my kids a tiny bit more...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, 

I   Shall   Not   Want.   I lack nothing.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures... 
tiramisustudio @
      He leads me beside quiet waters..  

He refreshes my soul. 
        True to His word, He lets me catch my breath and sends me in the right direction.

He guides me along the right paths for His Name's sake. 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 
     Even when the way goes through death valley.. 

 I will fear no evil ... I'm not afraid

for You are with me.  You walk by my side.

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure..

You prepare a table before me .. in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint me with oil; my cup overflows!
     You revive my drooping head;  my cup brims with blessing.. 

Surely ... surely .. 
Your love
Your goodness
Your beauty
Your mercy

will follow me  ... chase after me ... come get me...

all the days of my life
each and every day I live

I will dwell in the house of the Lord
      I'm at home in the house of God
               I will live in the home of Love


Pray for us. 


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Routines vs Schedules

Once upon a time I bought a book. There wasn't anything unusual about this, as I am a book lover. I buy books constantly, usually at book sales, yard sales and thrift stores. (Don't get me started about buying new!) I like books. I buy bookshelves for my books, and I've often loaned out books as apparently I have better collections of certain kinds of books than some libraries.

This particular book is well-known among veteran homeschooler and large-family circles. Entitled "Managers of their Home" (also in the series Managers of their Chores, and Managers of their School), and written by a homeschooling mother of many, the book focuses on creating a schedule for everyone in the home. The idea is that if you schedule every minute of their day, no one has a chance to get into mischief, and everyone (ideally) should know what they need to be doing at any given
time, and so does mom.

Schedules are by their very nature, tied to a clock. When is key. A schedule tells you exactly when something is to occur and for how long it should take. The dictionary definition is "a plan for carrying out a process and/or procedure". It's a time table, where the relationship between time and the event is fixed.

Everyone needs a schedule of some sort. After all, doctors' appointments, work deadlines, soccer games and dance classes all happen at certain regular times, and if you miss it, you can't really make it up later. Schedules help large groups of people meet at certain times to accomplish specific things. Time-sensitive needs work better with strict schedules.

Schedules mean that there are not supposed to be any surprises. There's clarity. A person with a schedule knows exactly when certain things happen, and when other types of events can happen. For example, when you have a schedule for your day, you know when meals happen, when children need naps or have baseball practice, and you know that Sunday dinner with Grandma will work this week but not next week. Schedules are reliable: your family and coworkers get to know when you are free to join them and when you might not be so available. Schedules create clear definitions between activities too.

 winnond at
But schedules can create almost as many problems as they solve. Fixed schedules don't leave room for interruptions or spontaneity. There is a distinct lack of flexibility. And that can create feelings of rushing around or being "late", which can then lead to more frustration and conflicts with others. They require a lot of planning to create, and can also lead to wasted time!

"Managers of their Home" is all about creating a schedule. And I soon grew very frustrated with the whole process. Maybe it was a lack of detail about remembering to include preparation time (for meals for example), or maybe it was that at the time I had the book, I also had 4 children under 10, and 3 under 5, including a special needs child, or maybe it was just me. I soon sold the book and turned to other ways to manage (see post By Request). I thought, schedules just aren't for me.

There is another way to "schedule" things, that I am now just learning about. Setting up a series of routines is a way to take advantage of the pros of a schedule, while trying to keep the cons to a minimum. A routine is simply a series of events following a set, regular procedure. It's a fixed program, a constant, unvarying, repeated formula. But, and this is key, it's not tied to a clock. 

A routine is simply a way of tying habits together. This follows that follows this follows that, in regular order, so that you don't have to even think about what you're doing. We naturally do this. We follow the same streets to the store, to work, to church every time.  We have a specific order for how we shower, how we get ready for the day, how we leave the house, or even how we eat a meal. And most of the time, you're hardly aware of what you need to do next. Good routines become automatic. It's not when that counts, as in a schedule, but in what order that matters most.

Routines reduce forgetfulness, are much more flexible and easier to interrupt (and then return to where you left off), and they are without the "rushing" or "early/late" feelings that strict scheduling can create. They are however, harder to create and plan -- there are a lot of unknowns that don't get accounted for. And they don't carry the same sense of reliability and predictability that a stricter schedule does.

The best thing about a routine (over a schedule) is that a dynamic system is easier to adapt to routines. What more dynamic a system is there than a house full of young children?? Children have got to be some of the most unpredictable creatures out there, yet they thrive on predictable schedules and structures. So creating routines for them (and their mother) is a very good way to put structure in place.

I'm beginning with a morning routine. I'm not a morning person, particularly, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If I can get a routine down, my children may be less prone to mischief and annoyances, while I'm still waking up and adjusting to my day. I'm using Money-Saving-Mom's "Makeover your Morning" e-course to help.

We have a loose bedtime routine, but I'd like to make it tighter, and more predictable, so I'll also be
working on that (with the Makeover your Evening e-course, sister to the Makeover your Morning one). I'm looking at the other routines we have -- for going out, for school, for chores, for meals -- to see where we can tweak and make changes. I'm sure there are lots of things we can do better.

I'm not a schedule person. I don't have good time-awareness, and I can get easily lost on a rabbit trail. But a routine is a natural part of how human beings work, and I think if I put some deliberate thought into it, I can craft routines for my family that will take the guesswork out of the day and create the stability I crave.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Birth Story: Gift of Peace

My middle child was the only one I can say I ever even came close to planning. My 2nd daughter was about 10 months old, and I brought up the idea of having another child to my husband. It was June 2009. I had just had a few days of spotting -- what they call a "warning" cycle, and I knew my fertility was returning. My husband was in favor, though he thought maybe to wait a bit longer before really "trying".

Little did we know that waiting wasn't going to be an option. It w
as just a few days later after that conversation that a friend of mine asked me to test with her. She was hoping that she had conceived. Imagine our surprise when her test was negative, but mine was positive!!

My husband laughed.

So I began the process of finding prenatal care. Given that we had just moved to a new community and didn't even have a family doctor, I called a health care line for a referral. We were referred to a general practitioner who delivered babies, a rarity in Western health care, in my experience. She took on my children and me as new patients. So between well-baby check ups, catching up on missed immunizations and prenatal appointments, we were there at least every 2 weeks.

The only catch to this was that she only delivered in a hospital in the nearest city -- which was an hour away from my home. Given that my last two deliveries were under 5 hours, I was under strict instructions to go to the hospital at the first sign of labour.

Everything progressed normally. Baby girl was due February 25th. But on February 3rd, my life turned upside down. My marriage disintegrated in one of the scariest nights of my life, and unexpectedly, I found myself dealing with single parenthood, police, court dates and restraining orders, child protection services and women's shelters and counsellors, while 9 months pregnant. I scrambled to make alternate arrangements to make prenatal appointments, especially since my estranged husband wasn't allowed around our children without supervision.

February 25th came and went, and no sign of baby coming.

I woke up at 2 am, February 28th. As I sat up in bed, needing to use the washroom, I felt a soft "pop" deep inside, and immediately liquid gushed between my legs. I smiled. My water had just broken. It wasn't a lot, but it was a sign that finally, finally, this baby was coming.

I called my mother, and told her what had happened. I called my estranged husband, and explained to him as well. Within an hour, my mother was at my apartment to stay with my children, and my husband had picked me up to go to the hospital. It was a strange ride, given the circumstances.

By 5 am, we were at the hospital, getting checked in. They confirmed my water had broken, and contractions, though not strong or regular, had started. Unfortunately, by 6 am, they had petered out to nothing.

The hospital told me to go home or go walk around. This baby was in no hurry. If nothing happened, we were to be back by 8 pm that night, so we could start induction.

We went out for breakfast. My husband drove around a bit so I could sleep in the front seat of our van. Then we went to a local mall to walk. I had to buy a new pair of pants, as I was still leaking water. We walked the mall for hours. Contractions would start, but then stop again. Nothing seemed to be happening.  We gave up and went for a drive. My husband sought out the bumpiest roads he could find, driving over construction sites (he worked for a construction company at the time) in hopes that the movement would kickstart labor. But nothing worked.

Finally we headed back to the hospital. It was around 8 pm, and we checked into the maternity ward. By 9 pm we were all settled in, and we had an assigned nurse, who started an iv with a pitocin drip. Sure enough, by 12 am, March 1, labor began in earnest.

It was quick. So quick that the nurse didn't really realize what was going on. By 1 am I was heading into transition. I told the nurse that I needed to lay down, as I was feeling shaky and slightly nauseous.  By 1:30, I felt baby's head slipping further down the birth canal, and I informed the nurse that she should probably call for the doctor, as baby would be here shortly. She didn't believe me, and told me I had hours to go yet.

Within 10 minutes, I told her I needed to push. She looked up in alarm, and sure enough, baby was crowning. She started rushing, calling for backup, and grabbing the pads and equipment they needed. She urged me to hold on, at which I kind of laughed at her. She had nothing ready, but baby was coming now.

The doctor on call came jogging into the room, just in time to catch my little girl, as I pushed her out in 3. 1:55 am, my 3rd daughter was born, all 6 lbs 14 oz of her. As I cradled her on my chest, while they did their clean up and the placenta was delivered, she immediately started to nurse. I was delighted, and my husband was crying, as he did at every delivery.

We were cleaned up, and measured and bathed, and when she was given back to me, I noticed that the sheen of fuzz on her head seemed a tinge of red. I wondered if this one had inherited the red hair of my family background.

We were put into a ward room for the rest of the night. My regular doctor peeked in on us just as we were getting ready to move, and told me she'd see me in the morning.

That first night, my husband stayed with us in the hospital room. It was probably going to be the only chance he got for a while to spend time with our newborn daughter. She nursed frequently that night, but the nurses left us alone, which I appreciated.

By morning, I was ready to go home. My doctor didn't really want to discharge us, but she agreed, provided we saw her again the next day in her clinic. I agreed, and home we went. My mother had taken my other two children to her home, and we stopped in to introduce everyone.  Then I went home with my baby, just the two of us, to spend the night.

The next morning, we were in the doctor's office. My doctor was concerned. Baby girl was yellowish, and it looked like jaundice had hit again. We were sent into the children's hospital in the city, where we were admitted. The pediatrician put her on this light screen to combat the jaundice, and I nursed as frequently as I could. Unfortunately, my milk came in so fast that I grew engorged, and for a bit, it was a tough go to get nursing established. But the children's nurses were great, and they even got a lactation consultant to come help me, so we managed.

Baby did give us a bit of a scare. She was 5 days old, after our 3rd day in hospital, and the nurse was checking on her. And all of a sudden, she rolled from back to front. The nurse and I looked at each other and then back at the baby. The nurse said, "Did I just see what I thought I did?" I nodded. Shortly afterward, she wheeled in a crib.

We were discharged soon after, and we went home to settle in to life together. My daughter was the gift of peace I needed to restore my faith after the trauma of the past few months, and her name reflected that. She was a happy baby, who loved to nurse, slept often, and giggled at her sisters' antics. She was a relatively easy baby to care for, which I appreciated, as life had just gotten more interesting.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Craving Connection

It's a common theme. In my church "get connected" to a small group or bible study. In business we network or join associations in an effort to connect with potential support or future customers. In parenting we desperately search for mommy groups and play dates,  if only for a bit of adult connection and conversation. In homeschooling, connecting with support groups, co-ops, sports and field trips is essential to a well-rounded education for our kids. Even medically, the doctors ask how well we've connected with family, friends and community, because a lack of connections can be a sign of or lead to increasing health issues, both physically and mentally. 

Connections are integral to our being. We are social creatures. But in a world of increasing connectivity, we are increasingly disconnected.

Disconnected yet in constant communication.
Before you could join a Facebook group of like-minded individuals,  you had to live with those around you. We were less judgemental, at least openly, because we couldn't just angrily leave a group and start our own. Before we could jump online and post a blog or twitter rant about perceived shortcomings of our church or government or employer, we learned to criticize with care. The anonymity of the Internet has removed the personal connection ... and we are far more careless with how we treat people. 

We crave connection.

Connection is more than just waving hi to the neighbours walking their dog while you're watering the flowers. Connection is more than recognizing the name of someone who posts frequently in your Facebook group.

Connection is knowing and being known. 

Connection is a sense of shared history, common interests and similar goals. The problem with connection is that it takes time. And in a world of immediate-if-not-yesterday satisfaction,  taking the time to create connection is unappealing.  Somehow, with all the time-saving devices we have, we have less time than ever for connections.

I think that once, connection was created in the rhythm of life. Since common household chores took way more time and were much more public, connection happened across the laundry line, at the quilting bee, or in the garden. We weren't walled off from each other in separate little boxes traveling at high speed on the roads - people walked. You can connect a lot easier when life is a bit slower.
The rhythms of our society beat to a much faster drum. Connection isn't going to happen organically anymore. In order to connect, really connect, we have to be much more deliberate. 

It seems an impossible task. Just one more priority in a sea of priorities, along with feeding our children, fitting in a bit of exercise and making time for family, between work, school and homework, soccer practice and dance class, church and maybe even a date night once in a while. I don't know about anyone else, but when I'm waking up tired and going to bed exhausted, trying to find the time and energy to make a connection is harder than ever.

If connection is as important to our health as proper nutrition and the right levels of rest and activity, why is it so hard to do? 

There are lots of reasons. Connections are harder today, period. We aren't a 9-to-5 job world. Many parents work split shifts, work odd hours, work telecommuting or have longer commutes. Add to that the "mommy wars" and people are afraid to say hi less they risk a whole pile of judgement. 10 years ago you could let your kids play in the front yard without you there -- now let a 10 year old go to the park without mom and police are called. We don't have the opportunity to talk, to get to know people, because parents are more likely to have their kid in soccer or dance class than just play at the playground. Then when you are invited out, it's harder to say yes, because you're out 3-4-5 times a week anyway. We're exhausted, as a society. So connecting in general seems like too much work.

When I have deliberately sought out connection, it has been so worth it. I have made friends. I have found support. I have created networks. The web of connection has caught me when I fall, and I've been able to do the same for others.  When I make that space in my life, it has made life that much better.

Reach out to connect with someone new.
For me it started with making the time for a conversation with another mom, on a sunny summer afternoon, and inviting a stranger to sit at my table. It continued when I offered my home as a meeting place for strangers with shared goals to sit down and talk.  And it wouldn't have been possible if those strangers-turned-friends weren't willing to risk coming to a new home, to sit down and talk.

Connection is lost to fear. If either my friends or I would have been too afraid to take the risk,  the connection would never have happened. We connect when we overcome our fear.

Connection happens when we're open to it. If any of my connections had been critical of me, my home or my children, openly or not, we probably wouldn't have stayed connected for long.  While you can't force a connection - personalities don't always click - judgemental attitudes and critical comments will ruin it before it has a chance to begin. We connect when we are tolerant of minor irritations and stay open to new viewpoints.

Connection happens when we do it repeatedly. Today, we are much more spread out, we aren't all going to the same stores, churches or schools. Connection takes time. If those strangers-turned-friends hadn't have reciprocated with invitations of their own, the initial connection wouldn't have gone anywhere. We connect when we are willing to make the time for it.

My girls eating ice cream
It's worth it to deliberately make the space in our lives for connection. It doesn't happen automatically, but requires that we choose to create the opportunity. We must mentally overcome the fear, the critical attitudes and the busy-ness in order to make room for connection. But when we do that work, connection turns into support -- and into friendship.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Love is ... hard!

Choosing love is hard.  I'm the first person to say that I'm not the best example of how to choose love in every situation. When relationships get broken, when people do things that are mean and hurtful, its incredibly hard to choose the loving thing to do. But in my experience, when I was able to choose love, which only happened by the grace of God!, the strangest things happened. I was able to walk free, to let go, to forgive and to move on much more easily.

When someone hurts us, we get angry.  We want to lash out in return. I know I want to tell them off, tell them exactly what I think of them - which in the moment, usually isn't that flattering. Or I withdraw completely. I simply don't say anything, and I ignore them and their seeming stupidity. Apparently, when I get mad, I'm quite scary, but I think most of us are.
artur84 @

So how do you choose love when you're hurt and angry?  Proverbs 15:1 says that a soft answer turns away wrath.  That doesn't just mean that gentle words will help deflect someone else's anger towards you, but that when you choose to use soft words, your own anger will dissipate faster. And I don't mean to speak in whispers, but to choose words that are kind. You can still express how you felt about their actions, but you don't have to be harsh.

The second thing I have found that helps is to not require "payment". When someone hurts us, it often feels like they now owe us something. They've somehow robbed us, and they need to pay it back. Choosing to love means that you let go of that requirement. It doesn't mean the relationship is restored, but you aren't angry or demanding anymore. They don't owe you anything. You take a step back from the closeness of before, but there's no debt between you.

When someone does something wrong, we are disappointed. I don't mean that they have wronged you, but just in general. You found out they lied about something. Or that they secretly have made choices that will hurt others. You aren't directly impacted by the other person's actions, but the character flaws revealed are disappointing. They aren't who you thought they are.

How do you choose love when someone does something wrong, but it doesn't really impact you?  First, the most loving thing you can do for someone is to tell them the truth. Be careful here that your motivations aren't to beat them up with the truth -- condemnation and guilt never saved anyone from sin. Gently telling the truth about someone's choices and the consequences though, isn't condemning. Especially when you are also talking about the grace and love of God, telling the truth is the most loving thing you can do.

You may also need to consider your role in their sin. With my ex, I needed to set boundaries, so I wouldn't be enabling further wrong choices. Sometimes boundaries are misunderstood as manipulative, but the point of a boundary isn't to make someone do anything. A boundary is just what you will do or not do in a certain circumstance.

Above all else, when someone is doing something wrong, the loving thing to do is to pray for them. Pray for their repentance. Pray that the hidden things would come into the light and be revealed. Pray against any temptations or situations or influences that are leading them into the wrong. Love means that you pray hard.

n someone attacks us unjustly, we get scared. We may also be angry and hurt, but the root feeling is fear. Gossip, slander, rumors, personal attacks and outright lies are hard to combat. They ruin reputations, destroy lives and devastate families, churches and communities. Being attacked when you've done something wrong or controversial is expected, but when you haven't done anything wrong, and the lies and innuendos come, its a very scary thing to endure.

How to choose love? Continue to the do the right thing.  Nothing shuts down lies faster than the truth. You don't have to justify yourself or protest, or even tell the truth yourself. Just continue to do the right thing, and it will come out eventually. Remember that God is our vindicator, and He will avenge us.

Be kind in return. Jesus said to return good for evil, and in so doing, your reward in heaven will be great (Luke 6:35). Being kind costs us nothing really, except a bit of self-control. When someone attacks you unfairly, being kind -- choosing love -- helps to overcome the fear.

This might the strangest loving choice, but take joy in persecution.  That's what unfair attacks are: persecution. We can rejoice because we know our Father sees, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

Reflex is the 1st thing we want to do, but ends in entrapment and further hurt. When we just react to the pain, disappointment, and fear, we end up no better than the ones who hurt us in the first place. Choosing God's kind of love is empowering. It's transforming. It's hard.. but so worth it, because of the freedom you get. When you choose instead of react, the power of choice -- the power of love -- is redeeming grace.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Garden graces

When my ex and I bought a house, one of my favorite parts of that house was the landscaping. It had four full formal flowerbeds, a small orchard with apple, cherry and a pear tree, and space for a vegetable garden. When we separated, I barely had time to keep up with the flowerbeds, let alone anything else. When I sold the house, I mourned the loss of gardening.

I love to garden. It's kind of been a surprise to discover, given that I'm so not a country girl. I'm a city girl, through and through. I'm allergic to hay! But gardening is .. relaxing. Satisfying in a way little else is. I don't even mind getting dirt under my nails, and normally, that is something that drives me crazy. Gardening feeds my soul. 

I'm super excited though about my new house. There's a small flowerbed in the front, (with a rose bush!!) and there's a raised bed in the backyard, with room to expand. This year, I'm not planning to do much. I weeded out the raised bed. Well, I took the sod off the top, given that it had almost turned back to a box of lawn. I planted a small vegetable garden -- just a few tomatoes and peppers, carrots and cucumbers, and peas and corn. Oh and my chocolate mint plant, and a couple of strawberries. I'm also hoping to get some potato tirestacks done. 

What are potato tirestacks? They're this cool idea that make planting and harvesting potatoes easy. First, you stack tires -- just 2 or 3 -- and fill with dirt. Plant the potatoes in the tires. When they're ready to harvest, all you have to do is move the tires and sift the potatoes from the dirt. No digging required! 

For the first time in my life, I'm going to have to mow a lawn. I've never mowed a lawn before. It was a "boy" chore, so I didn't get the opportunity as a teenager. But now I get to/have to do it on my own. My father gave me a gas mower, so it should be relatively easy. I'm actually kind of looking forward to it, and my nearly-teenage daughter is eager to try it herself. I know.. she'll probably get real bored of that chore fairly quickly. But in the meantime, I'll take advantage of that willingness. 

I want to put lighting out on my new deck. Right now, I can't use it in the evenings, because there are no working outside lights there. There is a light fixture, but I have no idea if it works. I should probably try the bulbs and see what happens. I want a barbecue and host friends and their families!
 I can't wait to be able to enjoy summer evenings. I'd love to get a stand-alone firepit as well, and enjoy that too. I love campfires. 

All in all, I'm very much enjoying the yard space from this new house. I get just enough garden space to enjoy without being overwhelmed. I get new experiences. I have space to enjoy a backyard -- and maybe even put in things that I haven't been able to have in years. I love summer. I love gardens. This grace is So. Much. Fun.