Why I Stopped Writing

My husband’s a worship leader so if there’s one family that should have it all together, it’s ours.  He’s on stage week after week, ushering hearts into worship while I teach the grade two Sunday school class.  After the service we mingle with friends, discussing the latest episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or whose week it is to bring snack to Wee College.  I smile and nod in all the right places, laughing on cue and adding to the conversation on script –

But inside I’m a mess.

***

Two years ago I read an article written by one of my favourite authors.  The gist of the article was that you shouldn’t write when you’re in the middle of the mess. Instead, you should write when you’re out of the mess.  Write when you have resolution.

My mess hasn’t been resolved.

There may never be a resolution.

So I haven’t written – really written! – since January 2017.

Partly because of the lack of resolution of the situation that’s been weighing me down – and partly because I’m not sure how much of it is my story to share.

Lately I’ve been feeling that if I don’t start writing again now, I may never write again.

At least not about the things that matter.

So here I am, in front of the computer, typing away while my kids are at school. 

***

2017 was supposed to be a big year for our family:  We sold our condo and moved into a house, finally achieving the goal we’ve been working towards for the past four years.  It was The Dream. 

Instead, 2017 is going to be remembered as the year I lost my mom.

***

We used to talk every day.  She would call me or I would call her, and we talked about everything.    I called her with questions, I called her for recipes, I called her to tell her when my writing was published.

 Now she doesn’t always answer when I call.

She says she “doesn’t do numbers” – she can’t recognize the ten digits as mine, so she refuses to pick up. 

Before, if I didn’t call her, she would call me – if I missed two days in a row I could be sure there would be a buzz on my cell phone before 9 a.m. on the third day, and it would be my mom “just checking in” to make sure everything was okay.  “We’re busy, Mom,” I would say, rolling my eyes like a bratty teenager. 

Now we can go a week without talking to each other and she doesn’t even realize it.

***

My parents live on the other side of the country so they don’t see their grandchildren very often.  My mom used to beg me to Skype with her once a week, so she could see their faces and ask them about what was going on in their lives.  Ellie, especially, loved her chats with Grammie – she would run around the house, picking up toys to show her and holding up pictures she had drawn. 

Now my mom doesn’t remember how to use a computer.

They kids have stopped asking when she’s going to come for a visit.

***

I believe in God.

I believe in miracles.

But I’m losing faith that one is going to happen for me.

For my family.

I’ve been praying for my mom’s health and mind to be restored since I was old enough to understand what praying was.

I’m losing hope.

 I’m worried that my mother’s mind is gone.

God, you’re running out of time!

***

 Maybe healing isn’t the miracle.

Maybe the miracle is that I still believe in God – that He is a good god, that HE is a just god – despite it all.

These are the Days of ...

Hockey sticks on the front porch.  Minecraft after school.  Ellie using Nathan as her own personal jungle gym.  “Gurl cheese sandwiches” on Saturdays.  Colour by Number books.  Ripped knees in all of Topher’s jeans.  Paw Patrol and Puppy Dog Pals.  A dragon guarding the house from the living room window.  Pups lined up at the top of the stairs.  Growing pains and heating pads.  Fighting over whose turn it is to feed the fish.  Mayonnaise sandwiches shaped like a letter E.  Hockey drills in the basement.  Chocolate chips, cheerios and marshmallows for a mid-morning snack.   Shoveling snow from the shaded parts of the backyard into the sunny parts so it melts faster.  Ready Freddy and Junie B. Jones.  Garden planning.  Knock knock jokes and riddles.  Penpals.  Sparkly boots and lace-up sneakers.   American Ninja Warrior.  The harmonica.  Lego houses.  Best friend cousins.  The Neighbourhood Watch.

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It's Not Fair.

I don’t know about you, but one of the most annoying phrases that can come out of my son’s mouth is “It’s not fair.”

“You went to Starbucks when you got groceries?!?  It’s not fair!”

“Daddy gets to play Minecraft when I’m in bed?!?  It’s not fair!”          

“Ellie went to Lincoln’s house when I was at school?!?  It’s not fair!”

It ranks right up there with “I’m bored” and “We have nothing to play with.”  My usual response is to sigh heavily and then remind him, “Life’s not fair, buddy.  Get used to it.”

 Last weekend Topher’s eyes were opened to the fact that life really isn’t fair – and that sometimes, it’s the adults who don’t play by the rules.

 Topher is in his first year of competitive hockey.  Nathan and I weren’t exactly keen for him to play.  What if he couldn’t keep up?  How would he handle the competitive aspect?  He’s so sensitive!  Would it be too much for him? 

We needn’t have worried.

Okay, so he did cry when he got his first penalty (and his second …) -  but he really came into his own this year.  His coach called him “Mr. Bodangles” because of his incredible stick handling skills, and Topher nearly made our hearts stop when he scored the overtime winner to send his team to the finals of Minor Hockey Week.  

He didn’t hide from the competition, it made him work harder.

In December, Topher had his first brush with an unfair aspect of competition. 

He was checked by a player on the other team (which isn't allowed in Novice) resulting in Topher, crumpled on the ice for several agonizing minutes, unable to move.  The hit happened behind the play and the referee didn’t see it, so there was no penalty.  Topher sat out the rest of the game and ultimately he was fine– but the next day we found out that the other team’s coach had specifically told his team to “go after” Topher (and two other members of his team). 

We were disgusted.  Coaches, telling kids to go after other kids?  They’re seven and eight years old!!  Why can’t they just teach them the rules of hockey?  The passion of the sport?  And good sportsmanship?!?

Nevertheless … we moved past it.  Topher learned to keep his head up and his elbows out, and we forgot about the unfair play by that particular team.

Until last weekend.

Topher’s team was in the playoffs – their last game to determine who would move on to the semifinals.  They were up 5-4 with less than two minutes to go.

The other team took a penalty.

We thought the game was in the bag!  The Warriors would be moving on! 

But alas.

The timekeeper for the opposing team stopped the clock.  The referees didn’t notice, even though the stands were going wild.

The opposing team sent an extra skater onto the ice.

Again, the referees didn’t notice, even though the stands were going wild.

The other team scored, resulting in a tied game.

The Warriors were out of the playoffs.

After the game, the timekeeper laughed about it.  “I cost them the game!” 

My phone didn’t stop buzzing all afternoon.  The parents from our team were outraged.  Topher’s coach lodged a protest with the league governors, who agreed with him, but who couldn’t do anything about it since the administrative body above them refused to even hear the protest. 

“It’s not fair!” was the overwhelming theme of the day.  “Our kids worked hard!  They deserve to move on!  They played hard, they left it all out on the ice!” 

But ultimately, there was nothing that could be done.

“It’s not fair!” Topher sniffled, as I tucked him in to bed that night.  “They cheated, and they get to move on!  That should be us!”

“It’s NOT fair,” I agreed, handing him a Kleenex to wipe his tears.   For once, I had nothing else to add.

Life’s not fair – but how do you explain that to a seven-year-old?  My head and my heart both ached.

***

Isaac dealt with unfairness. 

Genesis 26 tells the story of how God blessed Isaac.  He planted crops and took in a huge harvest and became richer and richer every day.  He accumulated flocks and herd and servants – so many that the Philistines began to envy him.  They got back at him by throwing dirt and debris into all the wells that his father’s servants had dug back in the days of his father Abraham, clogging up all the wells.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Isaac was told to leave.  “You’ve become far too big for us.”

It wasn’t fair, but he left. He camped in the valley of Gerar and settled down there. He dug again the wells his father Abraham had dug, but which had been clogged up by the Philistines after Abraham’s death.

Then one day, as Isaac’s servants were digging in the valley, they came upon a well of spring water. The shepherds of Gerar argued with Isaac’s shepherds, claiming, “This water is ours.”  It wasn’t fair, but Isaac’s servants dug another well and there was a difference over that one also.  So Isaac went on from there and dug yet another well.  There was no fighting over this one so he named it Rehoboth (Wide-Open Spaces), saying, “Now God has given us plenty of space to spread out in the land.”

Later, Abimelech, the one who had told Isaac to leave, came back to him.  Isaac asked him, “Why did you come to me? You hate me; you threw me out of your country.”

Abimelech said, “We’ve realized that God is on your side. We’d like to make a deal between us—a covenant that we maintain friendly relations. We haven’t bothered you in the past; we treated you kindly and let you leave us in peace. So—God’s blessing be with you!”

Isaac laid out a feast and they ate and drank together. Early in the morning they exchanged oaths. Then Isaac said good-bye and they parted as friends.  (Genesis 26:1-6, 12-22, 26-31)

***

Sometimes the best thing to do is prove you care more about others and walk away from the fight. 

What happened last weekend stinks.  There’s no other way to say it.  It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, and it should never have happened.

At this level, hockey is supposed to be fun

The drama of Saturday afternoon took that away from our kids.

It was a horrible way to end the season –

But what a season our kids had!

They finished second in the Confederation Christmas Tournament.

They beat all the odds to make it to the finals of Minor Hockey Week, and earned silver medals.

They finished the season fourth in their division, with only five losses in twenty-three games.

Our starting goalie played almost the entire season in net and got a couple of shutouts.  One of our boys rediscovered his passion for hockey. Another boy learned how to bend his knees and keep his legs moving, another learned to pass the puck and make plays, still another player excelled at defense.   Each and every Warrior made great strides this season, as both a team and an individual player.

Rumour has it that Hockey Edmonton won’t get any better as our kids move up the levels.  There will be competition, there will be politics, and there will be cheating.

I sat down with Topher yesterday and asked him, “Knowing what you do now – knowing what happens in hockey – do you still want to play?” 

I honestly expected him to say no, but he grinned his widest, toothiest grin, and said “Of course, Mommy!  Even the Oilers get robbed, sometimes.”  He shrugged. “It’s not fair, but that’s life!”

That’s life, indeed. 

 

My Story

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a story.

At least, not a story worth telling. I’m just a mom. What do I have to say that means anything to anybody?

I used to be somebody else.

I was the girl who spent almost an entire year working to earn enough money to spend three weeks in northern Africa to tell people there about Jesus.

I was the girl who got a degree in economics (economics!) because she wanted to help impoverished countries get out of debt.

I was the girl who spent more than six years mentoring youth in schools, churches, and a ranch for inner city kids.

I was the girl who studied both equine science and youth ministry to gain the necessary knowledge to open a youth ranch of her own.

I was the girl who planned every step according to what she thought she would do in the future.

I had a plan: I was a girl who wanted to change the world.

***

But now I’m a mom. I spend my days cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, and wiping crumbs off the kitchen table. I juggle playdates, birthday parties, hockey practices and appointments around my work, which helps pay the bills but doesn’t change the world.

Some days I feel like I have no plan beyond survival, but still …

I love my life. My days are good. My days are full.

But lately I’ve been learning something. Hearing something, in the whispers of my soul.

“You have a purpose.”

“You have a purpose – beyond your husband and children.”

In Matthew 10:37-38, Jesus says this: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (NIV)

Every time I read that passage, I feel a little twinge in my conscience. I love my kids. Of course I love my kids!

Do I love them more than Jesus?

No! Of course not!

But wait …

***

I lost myself when my children were born.

I lost my story, and replaced it with theirs.

On the other side of the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink – I’m still the same girl I was, all those years ago.

I still have the same gifts and the same passions … they’re just buried under the piles of laundry in the basement!

***

Being a mom is not a reason to abandon my purpose.

It’s not an excuse.

My identity is in Jesus. My identity is not in my role as a wife and mother.

When I stand before God at the end of time it won’t be as “Nathan’s wife” or “Topher and Ellie’s mom”. It will be as me.

I still want to change the world.

I have no idea what that looks like or what the future holds, but for now, my plan is to just do the next thing. Just do the work – and see what happens.

My Little Gymnast

When I was a little girl I was always doing something creative.  I remember being holed up in my room for hours, drawing horses, trying to get the angle of the ears just right, or making candy wrapper collages for my notebooks.  I wrote all the time - stories, poems, songs, essays.  Inspired by Gordon Korman, I wrote my first novel in seventh grade - a mystery starring Ryder Strong and Ben Savage from Boy Meets World.   I had all the time in the world to devote to my creative endeavours, as long as my  homework was done in time!

I miss those days.

Now creativity seems like a luxury.  I find myself encouraging my kids in their creativity, praising their choice of colours and solutions to problems when their artwork doesn't turn out quite like they expected.  I refer to the Beautiful Oops book often, reminding them that their projects don't have to be perfect - sometimes it's more about the process!

I need to tell myself the same thing.

I know that I'm the most myself when I'm being creative.  I've noticed a change in my attitude, my mood, my productivity - when I push my creativity to the side.  It's a part of me that I need to pay attention to.  It's who God - the ultimate creator! - made me to be.

* * *

This is a poem I wrote for Ellie as part of the Coffee + Crumbs Year of Creativity course.   We were encouraged to pick a childhood activity that we don't do often (or in my case, ever!) and spend some time doing it.  Really doing it.

I used to love writing poetry.

These days it feels like everything I write has a purpose and a deadline - so I sat in the viewing room at Ellie's gymnastics class and watched her with my notebook open on my lap.

This is what I wrote:

 

My Little Gymnast

The gate opens and she dances into the gym,

Giggling, her hair a caterpillar bouncing down her back.

She sits on the red warm-up mat, eyes raised expectantly,

Awaiting her coach’s instructions.

She knows Mama’s rules:

If you don’t listen, you don’t do gymnastics.

So she waits.

 

The first circuit is trampoline – her favourite!

Star jump, bum drop, tuck jump.

“Land on your feet!” her coach tells her.

 

Then onto the foam pit.

She cannonballs from the edge, then decides to try the vault.

She climbs up – one crash mat high, two, then three.

“Oh, that’s high!” she exclaims –

And scrambles down to slide in from the edge.

 

Airplane arms on the beam, a stork stand in the middle.

Jump off –

But land on your feet!

Bear walks on the p-bars, a tuck solo hang.

Wait your turn for the rings!

 

It’s time for floor.

Backward rolls, dog tails, jumps and twists.

“Land on your feet! LAND ON YOUR FEET!”

Under the rainbow tunnel, cartwheeling over the French fry mat.

She avoids the rope as long as she can after a fall last week.

 

Then Coach Mariam helps her wrap her legs around the rope,

And gives her a push.

Her eyes are as big as saucers,

Then become slits atop a wide grin.

She swings back and forth, back and forth –

Then drops neatly to the floor.

On her feet.

“I did it!” she cries.

 

My little gymnast.

* * *

Creativity is never a waste of time.   

I feel like I'm slowly making my way back.

Beauty for Ashes

Maybe it’s just me, but in my experience beauty goes hand in hand with pain. You can’t have one without the other.

Today I'm sharing a story of how God created beauty from ashes:

"Three years ago we bought our son an adorable little t-shirt: “Big Brother Team Captain”, it said. He wore it to Grandma and Grandpa’s house that evening – he was so excited to share the big secret he had been keeping.

My husband’s parents were ecstatic – they had been waiting for a second grandchild since the day our son was born!

Then I started bleeding.  Just a little spotting, at first.

Then more ... "

Read the rest at Anchored Voices.

The List

I was always a serious child. I liked rules, I liked routines, and I liked lists.

Maybe that’s why the youth retreat I attended when I was fifteen had such an enormous impact on my life.

I remember sitting in the dark conference room, squirming in my chair as the speaker talked about one of my least favourite topics: Boys.   I was a late bloomer when it came to boys. Horses were much more interesting!

Nevertheless, I began paying attention when she started talking about a list. She explained that when she was in high school she had created a list of the qualities she was looking for in a boyfriend. If a boy didn’t possess all the qualities on her list, she wasn’t interested. We were given pen and paper and directed to create lists of our own. According to the speaker that weekend, if The Boy didn’t meet all the requirements on The List, he wasn’t the one God had chosen for us.

It seemed simple enough.

Lists were my thing, so I wholeheartedly embraced the project!

At first my list was very specific and looked something like this:

  1. Must love horses.
  2. Must love animals.
  3. Must be older than me.
  4. Must be smart.
  5. Must have brown hair and brown eyes.
  6. Must have a good sense of humor (but not a crude sense of humor).
  7. Must be anti-drinking/smoking.
  8. Must meet and be approved by my grandmother.

My list changed as I got older and actually began to develop relationships with the opposite sex. (At first I wasn’t sure if changing my list was allowed but decided it was when I realized there weren’t any boys in my entire town that fit all of my requirements!)

The List changed even more as I began to date real boys instead of fictional ones. (SPOILER ALERT FOR MY CHURCH GIRLS: TODD SPENCER ISN’T REAL!)

Items on my list that I once thought were deal breakers no longer were. I began to value traits like loyalty more than appearance and being treated with respect was more important than an undying devotion to my pet cat.

By the time I graduated from university The List had changed from that The Boy had to be to what he couldn’t be:

  1. Bearded.  By that point in my dating career I had firmly established that I did not like beards – or facial hair of any sort. It was prickly and scratchy and my hair got stuck to it like Velcro, never mind that kissing a man with a beard was sometimes downright painful, and I was always picking hairs out of my mouth that were not my own.
  2. Anything but a New Brunswick boy. I was a maritimer and I wanted to stay that way.
  3. A pastor. I grew up in the church. I wanted nothing of the politics and nothing of the drama.

When I moved to Alberta after university I wasn’t looking for love. I wasn’t looking for any sort of romantic relationship at all, to tell you the truth. My plan was to go to school, learn what I needed to learn, and go back to New Brunswick to start a youth ranch. Boys didn’t factor into the equation at all.

Especially not Alberta boys.

Then I met Nathan and I forgot all about The List.

He was everything I didn’t want:

  1. David Crowder’s doppelgänger (proof here and here.) My husband has more hair on his face than our dog does on her entire body.
  2. An Alberta boy – and not just that, a complete city slicker who had never seen a live chicken – in real life – until he visited New Brunswick with me when he was 25.
  3. A pastor in every sense of the word except official job title. Nathan graduated from Bible College and worked in full-time ministry, then decided he preferred volunteer ministry positions instead of paid ones. He leads small groups, teaches Sunday School and Wee College, leads worship on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings as well as at retreats and conferences, is involved in prison ministry – the list goes on!

What I thought I wanted wasn’t what God knew I needed. That silly list seems insignificant now, after ten years together. If I could write a new list and send it to my younger self, these are the qualities I would put on it:

  1. Passion for God and things of God.
  2. Love for family.
  3. Patience.

Nathan meets all of those requirements easily!

He’s devoted to God and his family and he has more patience than anybody I have ever met! Who else would calmly pull over on the side of a busy highway to console his sobbing, hormonal, pregnant wife and pray for a dead coyote’s grieving family?

For the past ten years he’s been my rock.

He’s my support, he’s my encourager, he’s my inspiration.

He’s my love.

So although I’ve swallowed more beard and moustache hairs than I can count, dip my toes in the Atlantic ocean every five years instead of every weekend, and have fed my children cheerios in the church coffee shop on more Sundays (and Thursdays, and Saturdays) than I ever would have imagined – I’m happy. I’m more than happy. God has done abundantly more than I ever could have asked, or even thought to ask! - in giving me my husband.

Happy birthday, Nathan!