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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Me & My Hallway

I turned our ugly construction-junk-filled hallway into a coatroom today.
I wish I'd taken a Before shot, but here is the After. (If you peek at my September post, you can see a little of it there!)


Um 
...Big deal, right? Why is this worth a post? Making a room more useful is kind of an ordinary thing, J.

Except for me, it's not. After a super hard year and a reno gone wrong, I'd lost all motivation to do anything for my house. Keeping it clean and running to provide for the constant needs of four busy kids was super hard without a kitchen or even a sink for most of the year. So when I looked at my hallway filled with construction junk, I didn't see the possibilities it held. All I saw was the mess.

And that's how I felt about me, too. Deeply. For a really long time.

Well, back in the spring I reached out for help.

I called a counsellor.
I told her how I was feeling.
Worse than worthless.
A burden on my people.
Hopeless.
Like every day was going to be harder than the next.
Like there was nothing good to come.
Like I should apologize to everyone who had to bear the burden of looking at me, interacting with me.

The only reason I didn't drive into the front of a truck is that it would have hurt the trucker.

Feeling that low. So low.

She asked me if I could tell her approximately how many days out of the past 2 weeks I felt like that.

12 (13?)

We talked for an hour. 
Mostly me.
Apologetically, excusingly, embarrassedly me.
She promised me she would call me back the next day and set up a schedule of appointments.

She reminded me to feel my feelings, to make sure I got enough sleep, and to take 10 minutes outside, walking. She encouraged me to build in a little deliberate joy - do something that made me happy - and didn't hang up until I planned it (downloading a funny podcast to listen to on my walk).
And she asked me to call my doctor to discuss antidepressants.

I took a big gulp at that.
One of my constant shames and discouragements was my weight. And I knew people gain weight on antidepressants.  So although I'd been fighting this feeling since a miscarriage in 2009, I hadn't ever been brave enough to consider it.

It's not bad enough for that, is it? I wondered.

But yeah. It was.

So I started taking antidepressants.
Within a month, my bad days had gone from 12/14 to 3/14. 

And it's been almost six months now. And yup, I've gained weight. But you know what? I don't care anymore. My fixation with that was a symptom of my depression. 

And I had a seismic shift in perspective. 

If I don't like something, I can do something about it.
What?!
If I don't like something, I can do something about it.

That's the bliss of adulthood.
When you're a kid, you don't get to make a lot of decisions about your own life, but the bliss of adulthood is agency.

If I don't like something in my life, I can do something about it.

And maybe you're like ... Um, of course. What's the big deal?
But the big deal is this:
Depression lies. It told me I was stuck and any action I could take would just be worse and everything was awful and my only choice was between awful and horrible.

But I have agency.
If I don't like something, I can change it.

This week, I saw my hallway - I really saw it. And I didn't like it.
So I changed it.

And I feel super vulnerable and weird sharing all this but I just thought - maybe someone else is afraid to reach out for help. Maybe you don't think your feelings are heavy enough or maybe you're scared of what treatment will be like.

So I wanted to share that if my painfully-long-depressed brain was able to heal enough to find joy and hope and rearrange a hallway that held unused construction junk for a year, then yours can too.

Make that call.
Reach out for help. 
You're truly worth it.
And if you need someone to talk to about it, I'm here. 

Xo.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Every Child Matters

We went to the Indigenous children's memorial last night, an event held by the our town as part of Truth and Reconciliation week.  As we walked through the park, carrying lights in the darkness, I found myself looking around for our other children. It was so strange - I felt very close to our miscarried babies last night, and was surprised to find just four kids walking alongside us. Isn't that odd? I've never had more than four of my kids walking beside me, and yet every now and then I unconsciously expect the others to be there.

We held our lights as the darkness closed in and there was nothing to see, only words to hear. Trembling men and women shared their stories with us, stories of loneliness, abuse and horror and loss that they carried and continue to carry.  One man sang a prayer he has written for his children, and for all the stolen children and their suffering. It was beautiful and so simple.

Creator, see my children. Creator, watch over my children. Creator, save my children.  
He sang in the dark.

In the middle of the night, Pascal woke me up because he was having bad dreams. I took him back to his bed and cuddled in with him. "Mama," he whispered, "did you know that my second-favourite bird is a bluejay?" He squirmed and tossed and squirmed some more until I realized that his one-piece pyjamas were growing too small. I found comfy pjs and changed him into them, then he laid down and I smoothed his blankets over him again. "I'm the comfiest boy in the world," he sighed, and soon drifted off to sleep.

I lay next to him, heart cracked wide open.
Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children tossed with discomfort in the night. Mothers and fathers never had the opportunity to soothe them back to sleep. Who noticed when their pyjamas grew too tight? To whom did they whisper about their second-favourite bird?  Who saw their eyelashes finally fan out in rest against soft cheeks, who heard their breathing grow slow as they slipped into dreamland?

Creator, see my children.

Two of my babies didn't make it into this world. I believe their faces and personalities and habits are known in heaven, seen and witnessed by God. They have not known pain or suffering and still my heart aches for them, longs to know them. Even after all this time, even though they never cuddled to sleep in my arms, their absence seems wrong and my heart keeps the tally.

Residential schools in Canada kept an official record of how many children died in their care: 51.
Over 6000 graves have been discovered this year, and we're still going. The bleeding wound of unresolved grief has kept the tally.

Creator, watch over my children.

The aching injustice, the pain and grief and sheer agony of parents whose children were ripped away - this is unimaginable.  And yet, it's the lived experience of every Indigenous family in our country. 

I don't think it's a coincidence that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is September 30, and October is Infant and Child Loss month. The history of settlers in our country is a history of genocide, infanticide. We can walk around holding lights in the darkness but precious people are missing. The voice of our brother's blood cries to us from the ground.

Creator, save our children. See our children. Watch over our children.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

A little extra love

I found myself unexpectedly back in school this week; not as a teacher or a student, but as an EA. 

In a whirlwind 10-minute tour and outline of my duties (mostly covering lunch breaks and other duties for actual EAs), I got a bird's eye view of the million moving parts that make an elementary school run.

While I've looked at school as both a student and a teacher, I've never peeped into it from the perspective of an EA. My tour guide showed me a room for body breaks and the walking path for kids who need a few minutes out of their classroom and posters with emotional regulation reminders and in the middle of it all she said "there are so many kids who just need a little extra love."

And like

I kept on walking like an actual normal human but inside I felt like a field full of fireflies, a night sky full of stars. 

Because this is our whole beautiful heartbreaking hope-giving point.

(Love God, said Jesus, and love everyone else. Love your neighbour as yourself.)

I have lived for almost 39 years and my life has been filled with what I imagine is the usual mixture of gladness and sorrow and I have been blessed in so many ways and yet I can't think of any good reason for sticking around this place except for love.

They say there's nothing new under the sun: matter may change shape and form but the sum total of matter stays the same. Whatever we do, we do with the stuff we've got. And we get to try our hands at alchemy and turn what we've got into love.

I mean - we can do the opposite too. We can take our person and energy into the day and spread rage and leave people cringing in our wake. We can leave filth and darkness and agony and hatred and apathy.

But, we can - and so many people do - take a morning cup of coffee and a few pieces of toast and walk out into the world and expend that energy as kindness. We get to take these bodies we're in and work gentleness into the places that surround us, create warmth and light and cleanliness and beauty. We get to inhale the air and speak words that comfort, words that inspire, sing songs that awaken whole rooms inside.

We get to take what we've got, and give a little extra love.

And there are a whole lot of people that need a little extra love.

xo.

 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Grownups at play

A few months ago Vava and I were walking home down the broad sidewalk and gentle hill of our main street. Her little hand was nestled in mine. Grey clouds were rolling in, high up in the sky, and little puffs of wind blew about. 
It was a Sunday, and the day felt free and light. There was very little traffic and hardly anyone around.
I looked down at my long-limbed girl, freckle-faced and starry-souled.
"Wanna skip?" I asked.
Her face lit up. We skipped. Holding hands, l-left r-right, l-left r-right all the way down the long hill, blocks and blocks of skipping. We laughed and laughed from sheer joy until we ran out of breath, then we linked hands and did it again.

And a few weeks later I was walking the same route again, this time by myself, and I really wanted to skip. It's faster, and fun, and my walk was kind of boring. And the memory of our gleeful skip danced on ahead of me while I walked on, step after boring step.

You know how when you're a kid, you can't wait to grow up because you'll be in charge of you?  And you think you'll be able to do anything you want?

But you won't be able to skip down the street by yourself. Or wander in the woods, feeling the different textures of bark and looking under moss for bugs and challenging your friends to find the biggest mushrooms. Or lie upside down on the couch with your feet on the wall, absorbed in your book.

I mean, you can. But with a side order of side-eye and maybe a few questions about your sanity.

Why did we ever decide that skipping isn't for grownups? Or climbing trees? Or biking with no hands? Why do these things signal something wrong, instead of something deeply, freely, beautifully right?

[Our culture tells us that for adults, pursuing interests should be productive, or competitive, or financially driven. 

A grown man biking furiously with a delivery box on his bike? Responsible. A grown man biking as fast as he can down the street with a racing bib on his shirt? Laudable. A grown man racing down the street on his bike, chortling with glee? Wacko.

Anyway.]

I held in the skip until I got to my own street. I couldn't see anyone out and about. And so I picked up my feet and careened down the sidewalk l-left r-right, l-left r-right all the way home.  Bliss.

Last night I was driving down a street in the dark and I saw a man doing the same thing. Not skipping, but practicing tricks on his bike. He was on the far end of middle age, still wearing the dressy shirt I imagine he'd worn to work. 

When I drew alongside him he was pedaling steadily, hands in the air, a look of quiet bliss on his face. I felt a wave of joy and unity and a sense of rightness. Humans at play are captivating.

When the day breaks - when the morning stars sing together and the trees of the field clap their hands - I will not trudge down the streets of gold. I may bike. I may skip. If the good Lord sees fit to grant me some rhythm I will even dance.

And all the grownups will play.

(But it's so much better if we start now!)

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Kachi

It was the end of the afternoon. We'd been to the beach and come home, sweeping into the air conditioning in our damp and sandy clothes, uncomfortable and cranky because it was over.


I dove headfirst into chores, the ones I shouldn't have left from the morning.  

Sam, Vava, and Pascal all followed the usual routine: taking off their suits, leaving their towels in the laundry, finding something to do.

But Kachi stormed and scowled by the door.


A friend phoned and I inhaled her conversation like food after a hard day's work.

I filled the tub for Kachi, hoping its warmth would wash away his heaviness. It didn't.

 

He yelled and I ignored for five minutes, ten, until finally I put my call on hold and asked him what was wrong.

 

"Will you stay in here with me?" he asked, but it came out fierce and sulky, a command, a challenge.

 

I could feel my eyeballs rolling. 

Sigh. Didn't I just spend the whole afternoon at the beach with these kids?

I deserve a chat on the phone. I do. 


But early in the afternoon Kachi had been yelled at, unfairly, by a grown up he didn't know and he'd retreated into the beach chairs
And hadn't played with us
And had just waited, eyebrows low and heart tossing, until we left.


So I said my goodbyes, and, still wearing my bathing suit, stepped into the tub.

Kachi's eyes grew huge, and he gasped in delight. The water rose as I sank down and laid my head against the edge. Kachi laid his head on my arm and opened up, letting the injustice and sorrow tumble out until we both just sat there, silent, together.


Sam needs to share a laugh, eyes meeting, joyful, over a common absurdity or delight.
Vava needs to be seen, she loves being caught doing something happy or kind or helpful.
Pascal needs to be snuggled and smooched.

Kachi? Kachi just wants to be together.



 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Patch of Wheat and Purple Flowers

A patch of wheat and purple flowers

Waved golden, radiant in the sun

And the late afternoon breeze.

Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?

I asked my daughter

And she gazed at my face and said 

Everyday.

Her freckles, golden;

Her eyes as blue as the sea;

Her hair, tossing about her head wild and free.

That slim frame and wiry limbs and paint-stained fingers

Carrying all this love in and out of season

Everyday.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Best Kitchens

I've rearranged my kitchen again. 

It's not the kitchen of my dreams that I thought I would be sitting in this year. It's not the kitchen we paid for.

But it's the kitchen that is.

We've been living in a construction zone since last August. As the one year anniversary rolls up I find myself indignant and resigned by turns. "It is what it is," I shrug, and then the next day, "it's not fair!"

So, I'm right and I'm right. It is what it is ... and what it is is unfair.

Anyway. All that aside, we're expecting family for a visit at the end of the month. So I've been trying to think of ways to make our half-built space more accommodating and cozy. It won't be fancy or even finished but it can still be comfortable, I think.

So today I rearranged the spaces. The office is now the dining room, and the old table space in our kitchen is now a sitting area. I've got boards on sawhorses to make an island with shelves for dishes, lamps all around to make up for no lights being installed, and I think we will have lots of fun hanging out in here.

After I wrapped up the dishes for the night and washed the counters (rough boards, whatevs), I sat down in our new little sitting area to just make friends with the space. The fridge hummed, the lamplight was warm and gold, and I found myself feeling really close to my grandmothers.

They were both mothers of big families - 10 kids in my dad's family and 9 in my mom's - and hard workers. I remember them most in their kitchens, full kitchens, overflowing with people and laughter. Stories and songs and good food, prayers and tears and poetry - these were the things they fed us. When I was quite young, I was awed by them, and a little afraid. They had such fancy ornaments on top of doilies, and soft shell-shaped soaps, and covers on their cushiony toilet seats. But as I grew older I found myself connecting with them more, devouring their stories and craving more minutes in their kitchens, with their memories and wisdom and expressive hands.

They both left sooner than I would have liked but their stories have stayed. Their recipes and hymns and poetry have settled deep in my heart like flat worn stones in a well-loved garden.

I loved their kitchens, but not because they were fabulous. (They weren't.) I loved their warmth and welcome. I loved the way I left feeling filled and filled. I loved the family milling about and the shouts of laughter, the way songs or stories would spring up and get all our hearts on the same page.

And that's a kitchen.
That's a kitchen.
It's not new cupboards (or no cupboards lol). It's breaking bread and breaking down walls and just taking a break to be together. 

My grandmothers knew it. Lived it.
And maybe this little hiatus from my dream kitchen will help me enjoy being in my kitchen like I remember enjoying theirs.  No matter what it looks like.

Xo.

kitchens with couches are the coziest kitchens!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

A Wedding Toast

One of my lovelies is getting married today.
When she told me about her fiance she started with, "he's so kind." 
My heart melted.
I love him already.

Because as far as I can tell, there is nothing like kindness to make life together happy ever after.

Which, I think, is not the message I grew up believing. Not the message I believed for far too long as an adult.

I always thought if I was pretty enough (and submissive enough, tbvh - thanks church), I could snag a hot husband. Then we would never stop being in love with each other's gorgeousness and live happily ever after.

But ... I have a lot of really gorgeous friends who have mediocre or even downright miserable marriages.  Gorgeousness is apparently not the ticket.

Kindness, though? All the happiest people I know are kind, and if they're married, are married to someone kind. 

Kindness doesn't fade. It is a quality that grows more appealing and desirable the more it's practiced. 

Patrick and I would not win any sort of attractiveness contest unless we were the judges, but I am incontestably attracted to him. We have so much fun together, so much joy.  You can be vulnerable and open and completely yourself if you are held close in a deeply kind heart. You don't need to play games, be fake, or hide anything at all when you are with someone kind. There's trust and true intimacy when kindness is the mode of your relationship.

Love is patient, love is kind.♥️
Get you a partner who works on their gentleness, patience, goodness. Then, no matter what they look like, you'll be smitten forever.

Congratulations to my friends on their wedding day. God bless you now and always!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Ode to a Jetta, with goosebumps

Tonight I saw an old red Jetta. 
Boxy and with those particular handles that only Volkswagen drivers know how to open.
It bumped across in front of me through the intersection as I waited at the light, and, transfixed, I watched it roll merrily out of sight.
I was awash in goosebumps.

An old square Jetta, exactly like the one my parents had. 
I remember crawling through it, barefoot, the summer evening when Dad brought it home. We pulled and prodded every button and switch, lowering the back seats and crawling into the impossibly huge, square trunk. There was a passenger arm rest and cupholder that pulled down from the middle back seat, suggesting drive throughs and road trips. The windows wound up and down with small grey - what are they called, handles? levers? winders? - and most amazing of all, there was a moon roof.
A moon roof!
Sunroofs were a treat I'd enjoyed in my big cousins' cars, but I'd never experienced the wide open thrill of a moon roof. And the carpet was so clean, and soft against my toes.

By the time I was a teenager my parents had two Jettas, one red and one grey, but only one would start. The other had to be jumped. So, early each morning, my mom would get in her Jetta and my dad would get in his (carefully parked the night  before to face down the little incline at the end of our street. Dad would park on a hill near work, so he could roll himself to a start on his way home). Mom would butt the  nose of the red Jetta up against the metal bar bumper of the grey Jetta, where my dad was ready, clutch engaged and gearshift in neutral. She pushed until my dad was rolling down the street, then he would turn the key and the ignition would catch. 

It was a clumsy and delicate dance, and I could never quite decide whether to laugh or cry watching them repeat this daily ritual. It was funny and beautiful, the kind of beauty that leaves a little ache in the throat.

I first learned to drive in that square old red Jetta. Permit in my pocket, I traded places with my sister at the top of a ramp leading onto a mostly empty Nova Scotia highway. It felt strange to sit in her seat, and buckle my seatbelt on the wrong side of my body.
"Ease off the clutch until you feel it grab," she told me, "then ease on the gas." I didn't know how to steer or brake or anything, yet off we went, the throaty rumble of the Jetta a loud and unmistakable purr of satisfaction. 

The rush of driving was addictive. (I've preferred it ever since; I hate being a passenger.)

I remember one night we were out at the lake, friends and cousins, a whole bunch of us, and my cousin Laura locked her keys in her Golf. I'd heard that Volkswagen only made 7 different keys, so I thought the odds were good that my key would open her door.
It did.
It did!

That Jetta.
We made many miles of memories in that boxy thing. 
I hadn't thought of them in years.
But when it passed me today, it left magic in its wake.
Magic.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

For Patrick, Fifteen Years Later

I remember praying for you.
One day when I was 13 or 14 I knelt beside my bed and before I went to sleep I prayed for you.
That God would bless you that day and every day. Help you with exams and give you joy and give you a strong and true and loving heart. That you - whoever you were, wherever you were - would have a happier moment today, and many happier moments in your life because someone who longed to meet you was praying for you.

When we crashed heart-first into each other and got married I could not believe my luck. 
Some people put on their best self like a jacket when they go out. They wear bright shiny smiles for strangers but put on something less lovely for their loved ones.

You save your best self for home.

Your warmest love and happiest laughter and most devoted kindnesses - you pour them all out right here for us. For me.

I've always said the first year was our hardest year. Learning to be around each other all the time and how to fight and make up and what's worth arguing about (I guess we still argue about that 😅). And folding towels.

Before we got married, my mom told me not to worry if you do chores differently than I do unless I wanted to always do them myself (good advice). We wash dishes and sweep differently, we sort things differently, we fold shirts differently. 
But after a few loads of laundry I found myself unfolding the towels you'd folded and doing them my way (the right way lol). You laughed and said folded was folded. And then, when I persisted in the refolding, you tried to learn my way. Muscle memory was not your friend, and the towels always ended up in long skinny weirdness that didn't fit anywhere. And finally I just told you not to bother - that I was refolding them anyway so you might as well leave them for me.

You didn't. So I've been refolding your folded towels for years. (Not resentfully! I love you.)

Last year we installed a gorgeous new set of shelves and a new washer and dryer in our laundry room.
And wouldn't you know it, the towels fit best on these new shelves when they're folded the way you first folded them a million years ago when we first got married.

So, smiling a little at the relief it would be for you, I started folding our old towels this new, old way.

And something weird happened.
I kept finding them folded my favourite  way on the shelves.
Each time I adjusted them, thinking my muscle memory must have kicked in and I'd forgotten to fold them the best-fit way.
I found them again.
And then again.
And finally I realized that

After fifteen years
And me giving up on it entirely
You had finally mastered my favourite fold.

My darling.
You kind soul.
This wretched lonely year, when we can't get away for a date night or a moonlit stroll, you still manage to spell your love out ... in towels.

I am grateful for our first hard year, this last terribly hard year, and every year in between. 
Thank you for loving me steadily and gladly and deeply.
You are beyond what I dared ask or think and I love you. 
Xo.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Blessing and Cursing

My friend shared this post today, where she talks about blessing and not cursing - and the way it's holy, Godly, to cherish the scraps.
And the way that when you cherish goodness in leftover bits, you begin to look closer, to see with wonder, to see the value in each created thing and in each created one.
Even others.
Even yourself.
Even others.

God has been whispering this to my heart for quite some time. 

I used to think that curses were formal things - formal wishes for evil and harm, by someone with power to make it so.
And blessings too. Formal wishes for good and wellbeing, by someone with power to make it so.

But - as my friend points out in her post - Jesus says that it's a hellish thing just to call someone a fool. It disparages them and reduces them to the thing you're frustrated by. It's myopic at best. And it's a curse. It's speaking evil about and to them.
But the key - the deep down behind the scenes reason it's not okay - is because we're ignoring the holy truth about people when we blister them with a curse.

God calls us Beloved. Honours us as image bearers. Blesses us.

I think I would be a much gentler driver if I remembered that everyone is beloved of God and created in his image. 

And that remembering needs to start on my lips. 
Can you imagine?
Instead of calling someone a jerk or worse, imagine if I called them Beloved, Created in the Image of God.

Instead of speaking evil, speaking truth. 

"Cut me off in traffic, will you, Beloved, Created in the Image of God?" 

Or my kids? "Time for school my Beloveds, Created in the Image of God."

Oh guys. 
That sounds so much nicer.
So much truer. 
I need that word on my lips.
That truth in my heart.
Blessing, not cursing.

Thanks for reading, Beloved, Created in the Image of God.

Friday, April 30, 2021

One could do worse than plant flowers

Today is supposed to be my writing day. 

Subjects have been interviewed, topics are prepared, and three articles are due ... but I'm sitting at my computer gloomscrolling instead.

I feel stuck.

And not just in my writing. But in everything. Helplessly stuck. You know?

 The apartment building across the street had a leak in the basement a few years ago. A cute little backhoe came and dug up the driveway, ruining the curb and a long strip of asphalt on one half of the front of the building.  

Repairs were made, the earth was replaced, but the curb and asphalt were never fixed.

The building isn't pretty - brick and square - but the front of it was always reasonably neat and not unpleasant. But for the past two years it has had an ugly 2-foot swath of dirt out front like a scar.

I feel like that with Covid. More than a year of adaptations to a life I was pretty happy with have been necessary, and functional, but ugly.  Scarringly ugly.

I want everything to go back to the way it was.  I want to have friends over and raise a glass and decimate a cheese board and hug hello and goodbye. I want to hang out with my closetalker friends and not step back an offensive mile.

I want the asphalt and the curb repaired.

Today I noticed that lumpy upturned patch of earth in front of the apartment building is growing daffodils and tulips. Last fall, maybe, someone got an idea in their heart and carefully tucked the seeds and bulbs into the dirt and let them unfold in their own time.

Beauty. 

Just now, my friend called. We're miles apart. Her call was like a breath of air. We can't hang out in person but we can still talk and share joy and carry each other's burdens. 

Her call planted a little flower in my Covid-broken heart.

I don't know how to plant and I don't know how to repair torn asphalt or rebuild a curb. I don't know what will grow out of all the upheaval and repairs we've had to make.

But I do know that God put us here to make gardens out of wilderness. To set our hands against entropy and craft, create, cultivate. We're made to be makers. To make beauty, to make life, to make wonder and function and comfort and nourishment.

And maybe someday a construction crew will pull in and set the apartment driveway right. It will be lovely.

But until then - 

one could do worse than plant flowers.