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So, this is Christmas. – John Lennon

Its the most wonderful weekend of the year.

No, seriously. Forget your fowl and your favors and your fragrant festive evergreens. You can have your soirees, your shopping malls and your savory sweets.

Even those joyous reunions of relatives from near and far on Christmas Day – which has traditionally been my favorite thing – can’t beat this weekend for me.

Call me a sentimentalist.

Call me a stage momma.

Call me a minivan-driving (yes, it’s true!), behind-the-scenes cheering, every-cliche-you’ve-never-hoped-to-be soccer/hockey/school-scheduled thirty-something crazy lady whose entire life revolves around her children.

I won’t care.

I must be all of those things, or the Kids Choir Production wouldn’t be my favorite part of Christmas.

Which is why I was more than just a little disturbed when the cold I thought was finally finished came storming back in the wee hours of Friday morning.

(Christmas colds – now truly they are the gift that keeps on giving.)

Saturday evening I bundled up my miniature minstrels and tiny-shepherds-with-Katniss-braids in their winter coats and gloves and boots and said goodbye as they went off to perform and I went back to bed.

It was tragic.

It was lonely.

It was the best thing I could have done.

See, what the perpetually healthy don’t know – and what most of us fail to acknowledge – is that being sick is our body’s way

of slowing down

and taking notice

of the things that need healing.

Just as cars sputter when in need of some work, our physical tents demand attention when

neglected,

overworked,

underfed,

or sometimes just

unheard.

So in those hours of

coughing and

sputtering and

surrendering to the fog that is a sinus headache,

my mind stilled enough to let me

breathe

pause

turn things over

and reflect on my love-hate relationship with this season.

I asked a dear friend about this today.

Why do I find this time of year so hard?

Her answer was filled with such clarity and composure that, even as her words came out, I felt my heart letting go of some things I didn’t even know were there.

It’s not just the enforced busyness.

It’s not the lure of materialism.

It’s not even my strong dislike of the pressure to keep up with the Janzens

in the latest and greatest

nine-year-old-girl toy

or cutest new family tradition.

It’s deeper than that.

See,

I love my family.

Truly.

I have one of the good ones, you know?

They are beautiful, funny, caring people.

They know how to have fun and be kind. They are thoughtful and deep, careful and reflective, respectful and honest.

But when I’m with them, I can become something I no longer am.

Let me explain.

Christmas is that time of year where, in some capacity at least, each of us is encouraged to go back to something.

Back home.

Back to the people who raised us.

Back to the people we grew up with.

Back to the people we used to know.

Back to the things we used to do.

And in going back, we think we will find something we’ve lost in this big, scary world of change and the growing knowledge of our own adult ineptitude.

We think we’ll find grace.

We think we’ll find hope.

We think we’ll find some section of the happy parts of our childhood and reclaim that person we used to be that saw the whole world ahead of them and limitless possibilities of all that could happen to them

and we could be

so

much

happier.

And sometimes that happens.

When it does, well… That’s what all the movies are about.

But the moments it doesn’t happen – and maybe its at your office Christmas party, or your cookie-baking day with your best friend or your shopping trip with your long-lost Aunt Nellie – those moments leave me confused.

Lost.

A little betrayed.

And I ask myself if I remembered it wrong.

But some of the things I lost in adulthood … I lost them on purpose.

There’s so much of me that I never want to see again.

I never want to be that again.

I never want to do that thing again.

I never want to be that person who was capable of such meanness or impulsiveness or harshness or unforgiveness. I don’t want that. Ever. Again.

And the best part?

I’m.

Not.

That.

Person.

Anymore.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some of you have experienced a radical life change in a cataclysmic moment, or even just a series of painful-but-profitable tweaks and snips and prunes that have softened some of your rougher edges and carved beautiful patterns in some of your uglier bits.

Some of you have also had the incomparable beauty of a vibrant and vulnerable community

that may or may not share your DNA

to whom you’ve chosen to attach yourself.

And, if they’re anything like mine,

they’ve become a witness

to everything that is new in you.

And while our families of origin

know how we started

and love us anyways,

it is our spiritual families who see everything we are becoming and call it beautiful.

Three Christmases ago, some of these gathered around our kitchen island and ate pizza as our kids watched a movie in the living room. It was one of those nights that we were all so busy and a little bit broken that for a few minutes there was only eating, no talking. And then they caught sight of my recent Homesense find -

A slightly-broken, easily mended sign that now hangs in our front hallway:

A friend is one

that knows you as you are

understands where you’ve been

accepts what you have

and still allows you to grow.

A smile spread across their face.

That. Is. Awesome.

It’s fitting they were the ones to notice, since I picked it because of

who they were and

all they were already teaching me to be.

And while I had not a fraction of a clue what those words actually meant when I bought it,

I was soon about to learn.

And it was hard.

And ugly.

And one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had.

And yet,

and yet,

I finally get it.

Friends -

What if we could do that for each other?

What if we went into Christmas

ignoring the shoulds and the coulds and the maybes and the wish I coulds and the malls and the media and every single thing that called us away from

giving other people space enough to grow?

Sometimes,

sometimes,

what happens in families

- even the very best, kindest, and most connected ones -

is that we organize ourselves

around who we used to be

and what we used to do together

and – hey, remember when you did this crazy thing? -

that we slip into becoming

storehouses for all of each other’s worst moments

and not

cheerleaders for the best moments

that might

still be yet to come.

Friends -

What I’m suggesting isn’t easy.

It’s living in upside-down land.

It violates all of our natural tendencies

to reach out across the divide

- especially if we have become very different people with very different lives -

and desperately try to connect

to that piece of the other that we

remember,

had a part of,

or hope we still have in common.

The problem with this, of course,

is that we don’t allow

for the strong possibility

that the other person may have become something

we don’t recognize,

know,

or fully understand.

But.

What if we did something different?

What if we expected them to be different?

Parents, what if we looked at our kids, for example, and said, maybe instead of

you’ve always been that way or

so-and-so’s just like (Dad) or

don’t be silly, that’s not for you,

offered

wow! you’re trying something different!

or

It’s hard to change. But also kind of fun.

or

tell me more about that, I’ve always wanted to try it.

What if we were curious people

who allowed others to be different

simply by being different ourselves?

It’s not world peace.

It’s not solving world hunger, or poverty, or the problem of evil.

It won’t always work.

And we won’t always feel up to it.

But what if this was our Christmas gift to each other? What if, instead of running ragged to all the pleas to give more or be more or do more or think more or read more or make everything perfect, or at least everything perfectly according to Facebook

and instead just let each other grow a bit?

Our family is headed into a season of uncertainty on several levels. Our girls are growing and time is speeding by. Our jobs are changing and growing and forcing us to grow in the best of ways. And in the middle of it all, we’ve been told

the cancer gene levels in my blood

are

also

(unfortunately)

growing.

It was only one test.

It’s possible it was nothing.

It’s might be just a blip,

an inaccurate reading,

or a number not all that different from my previous ones.

But it might not.

We won’t know until the next round of test results -

that take three months to get back.

So.

For now.

We.

Wait.

For good news or bad, we’re not sure.

The one thing I am sure of is that

there’s nothing I can do

to affect the outcome

of a test I’ve already taken

except

take my little white pills,

sleep,

eat,

exercise,

and soak up the myriad of moments

that, for now,

I’ve been given.

And while I could be angry

and some may say I’d be justified in it

I’m.

Just.

Not.

See, cancer has been a good friend to me.

It’s poked and prodded all of the worst parts from me and somehow made me

happier

brighter

better connected

and more lightly accessorized with the baggage

of all my immature

entitlements,

demands,

and expectations

of what my adult life would look like.

Friends, please hear me on this:

Cancer has been good to me.

(And no, I’m not making that up.)

The people who have been there in it

the people who’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly

know exactly why I’m saying this.

They know

they can see

that I’m not who I was

and I never will be again.

So friends,

As we enter this Christmas season,

I urge you

to resist that urge

to go back.

Choose to go on.

Decide to go forward.

And offer those around you the space to join you.

If we do it right,

that new land,

full of possibilities and

growth and

new creation

will be so appealing

that they won’t be able to help

but trip along behind us

Beside us.

Hand in hand.

Giggling at the possibility of a second chance.

Another breath.

A new life.

And really,

isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

A very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Let’s hope its a good one, without any fear. – John Lennon

 

Big Bang Theory

Summer.

You beast.

You fair-weather friend.

You bring your endless promises of lengthy goodness and shorter nights.

You smile your bounty of good food and island smells.

You remind me that I live in paradise.

But then you sneak in your underhanded jabs.

Your bugs.

Your overgrown, dead-weight, yellow-jacket drones.

Your rat-blasted mosquitoes.

And your lies that you will last forever.

Your illusions that the horrible winter chill will never return.

That we will never wear sweaters again.

Truth be told, I’d never seen a summer like you.

(At least, not in Beautiful Meterogically-Unreliable British Columbia.)

Gone were Vancouverite’s genetic adaptation we like to call Sun-Induced Panic.

Rants of rain in July were nowhere to be found.

We got so used to the good weather we started to trust it.

Expect it.

Forget that we were not Southern California – and that rain was not optional.

I confess.

It lulled me a bit.

I began to rest in the certainty of goodness.

I should know better.

For as all labour and delivery nurses will tell you, unless you have a surplus of vacation hours,

Summer’s last laugh is the ever-exploding birth rates at your local hospital.

People, please. Allow me a pause for a PSA of the birthing kind.

Not all of you must have babies in the summer.

I’m sure you all think it’s a great idea back in October and November. It’s cold out now, there’s nothing much to do, we were going to try anyways, and wouldn’t it be best for everyone’s schedule if we had a baby in July or August? Or, failing that, September?

I can give you your answer right now:

NO. IT WOULD NOT BE BEST FOR EVERYONE’S SCHEDULE.

In fact, I can tell you exactly who it would NOT be good for.

That’s right.

Your local, loyal, overly-protective, slightly-delirious mat nurse.

Those people you see laughing maniacally every day about 8 pm? Or, if they’re on nights, 8 am?

The ones wearing alien green scrubs? Or blue, or purple, or dark taupe, or the warmed over color of vomit, or whatever it is that your local hospital has provided for them to douse themselves in preparation for the bodily fluids threatening to cover them at any moment, either yours or your baby’s or, well, their own.

Because, contrary to popular belief,

Maternity is not the happiest place ever.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s beautiful. It’s the best, and hardest, and most challenging, most rewarding thing I have ever done – besides raise my own children.

When it goes well, it goes very, very well. There is no other feeling like helping a new life into the world – nestling it into its mother’s arms, take pictures for the new little grouping of three, or four, or five, or in Abbotsford, ten.

(Nope. Not judging. Just tired.)

Because when it doesn’t go well…

It goes very, very wrong.

That’s the only word that makes sense. It’s wrong to see good people struggle to have healthy babies. It’s wrong to have new life bathed in uncertainty. It’s just plain not right that we can’t expect perfection and ease in the welcoming of new little ones into this messed-up, but also incredibly beautiful world.

Confession: I’ve never been a clean person.

No, truly.

Anyone who has been to my house knows this.

I am friends with clean people.

They show me grace when they agree to come to my house, because, while I am by no means easy-going (seriously, stop laughing. I can hear you.) I am often too busy or too tired to care what my house looks like, at least to the point where I realize that I don’t actually employ a maid to read my mind and put things where I want them, and my pent up irritation at something else boils over to the point of

an explosion

of erhm…order.

I call it my personal Big Bang Theory.

This developing theory measures how messy my house – or my life – must be in order for me to explode in Big Bang Proportions,

in which I make my house look

the way it should have in the beginning.

In other words, it is a furious force of change

in which I attempt to

Impose order on chaos.

Filter out redundancies, stupidities, and irrelevancies.

And if it feels like rolling a giant sleeping bear up the side of Whistler Mountain, I know its because I’m

Fighting the Law of Entropy

In which

(as Wikipedia will tell you)

nature guides all things into a slowly descending state of disorder.

The Law of Entropy is curious, see. At least to scientists. And it both supports and challenges our history of origins in the most bizarre way. It supports the principle of death and decay; it challenges the theory that all we see around us exists because the untamed forces in the pre-existing universe’s matter combined together

to make everything

more ordered

more complex

and, well…

better.

But I sometimes have a hard time with that piece,

because,

at least when it comes to human soul evolution

- at least to this human’s soul evolution -

if an outside force doesn’t act on it, it just gets more chaotic.

And just like no mess in the history of the world has ever called a convention to say, hey, maybe lets clean ourselves up. 

But rather collides with itself and says, hey, aren’t I great? I should make more of me. 

(And it does.)

So it is with personal growth.

Because, if I’ve learned anything about soul change, it’s that it doesn’t usually begin with an internal prompt.

Oh, maybe that little wise voice is there – our inner angel, perhaps, or a spiritual guide, if that’s something you believe in – gently suggesting the higher path to take or the rougher edge to smooth.

But if you’re anything like me, it takes the external force of a hurricane

- or maybe the horrific thud of a collision -

to make me actually listen.

If I can get away with not listening, I will.

If my current course of action does not seem to be directly harming anyone or anything, especially if it seems not to be harming me, then I see no need to change it.

Right?

Some people Most of us have to learn the hard way.

The sludgy, stenchy, convulsion-inducing, painful way.

Most of us need our comfortably traveling vehicle to come to a sudden stop for us to realize we are headed in a wrong direction or have a part or two missing.

Sometimes its just that we’ve relied on one thing for too long.

And so we crash, headlong into

ourselves, really.

But the initial hit is usually external.

And it’s fortunate, really, because

Anything left to itself for too long gets worse.

Parents of toddlers know this.

Long periods of silence are rarely a sign of peace.

Short periods, maybe.

But long periods of ease usually end in disaster.

So, summer, I love you.

You’ve been wonderful.

Magical, even.

You’ve changed our lives with your blissful kisses of sunshine.

You’ve left your marks of joy and bubbles of laughter around sunset campfires in the company of those we love the most.

But its good that all good things come to an end.

Because anything left to itself for too long gets worse.

It’s entropy.

It’s humanity.

And it’s time we embraced that.

So, friends,

while my inner child is screaming that summer is over

my grown up is so, so relieved

that the season of change is here.

Because while we live in the Law of Uncertainty that is the British Columbia School System,

this home school momma

is so thankful

for that external force

so many years ago

that threw me off my path toward the last thing I wanted to do.

I’m thankful my family and friends pushed me to the point of decision.

I’m thankful my life circumstances made it clear that this was the path for our family.

I’m thankful for the pain that made me listen.

And while homeschooling is in no means the best or the perfect education option for every or even any family,

the chaos I watch around me right now

reminds me in the moments I’m tempted to whine that I have to start school tomorrow,

to instead be thankful

that I can start school tomorrow,

that I get to spend this much time with my girls

while they still want me to.

So, friends -

No matter what tomorrow holds for you,

I urge you to wake up thankful for whatever apparent life-derailment led you to the chaos of this morning,

for the uncertainty that perhaps allows some of you an extended summer,

more time with your kids,

more time to figure things out,

a push to be creative with your usual modas operandi.

I say this as one

who knows exactly how frustrating

and life-changing

(and in this house, frequent)

those moments are.

(It’s all we’ve lived these last six years, really.)

And while the pain of loss and uncertainty may not be good by itself,

its smoothing results on a restless soul are priceless.

Who knows?

If we each embrace our own crises for the bends in the roads they were meant to be,

we might all come out of this week more ready

to be that external force of change

the world so desperately needs

in order to get better.

Home school moms: Don’t believe that inner devil. You can do this.

Private school moms:  Good on you for recognizing where your kids needed to be and making the sacrifices to get them there.

Public school moms: You’re doing the right thing. You are the plumbline of the new generation. You are the warriors of our children. You are champions for change. You are the ones who insist that all our kids can grow up, get better, be more, and find success.

Teachers: You know what you sacrifice for your kids. Most of us with half a brain know too. Breathe in. Breathe deep. No truly great work is ever easy.

To all of you:

You are amazing, beautiful people.

Your children – at home and at school – desperately need you in whatever capacity you feel called and able to give.

You are not alone,

Which is a good thing.

Because we know

that

All things left alone for too long only get worse.

 

 

Resurrection

 

Some day we will all find what we are looking for. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we will find something much greater than that. – Anonymous

Let the ruins come to life. – Joel Houston

 

Two and a half years ago, I stared at a computer screen and gripped a scrap piece of paper in my hands.

Should I? Shouldn’t I? 

Then:

Does it even matter?

I was 31;

three years into my relationship with leukemia,

and not too many more into my relationship with motherhood.

I struggled to juggle

kids who were no longer toddlers, not quite school-aged children,

with a job I mostly loved, sometimes hated.

I’d graduated from one phase of life

- here is where we have children –

to one I never thought I’d see

- here is where we try to keep me alive so I can raise those children.

Read more

Hidden

For now we see as in a glass, darkly; then we will see face to face. – Paul

World.

We have a problem.

Slender rectangles dangle in our pockets, our purses, our coats. They call out to our hands, our hearts, our minds.

I wonder if so-and-so responded to what I said yet. I wonder how many people liked my picture on Instagram. I wonder what crazy thing so-and-so has posted on Facebook today. 

And while the wondering isn’t harmful, necessarily,

the constant triggers

of these

personal secretaries,

social assistants,

mini-information-superhighways -

just might

be beginning to rule us.

Read more

Safe

He that’s secure is not safe. – Benjamin Franklin

Freedom lies in being bold. – Robert Frost

Fall.

It always begins with such hope, doesn’t it?

We breathe the faint scent of maple and cinnamon, sense the flint of the chilling air as we drive to work and school, pause for a pumpkin-flavored coffee or treat, wrap ourselves in warm scarves and cozy pea coats, scuff our boots against the leaves littering the sidewalks, and say,

This year…

This year I will …

Read more

Possibility

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein

I dwell in possibility. – Emily Dickenson

I’ll never get this.

Only two weeks into the school year, and already I’ve heard this more times than I could possibly count.

My sweet girl, deeply thoughtful and highly-motivated – with skyscraper-high expectations of herself (no, I have no idea where she gets that from) – tends to say this at the first sign of trouble:

first misspelled word in Phonetics Zoo,

first wrong note in piano,

first mistake on her math worksheet.

So the first few days of the school year ended with tears for both of us.

Never mind that it’s been a rather teary summer.

Read more

Rest

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. – John Lubbock

We must cultivate our own garden. – Voltaire

The wrinkles are winning.

A friend stopped by Wednesday to pick up something I’d forgotten to give her last week. I answered the door puffy-eyed, snotty-nosed, and gingerly touching my ever deepening crows feet.

Are you okay?

She’s one of those who remembers sooner than most that my life isn’t normal.

Sure, I said, just June.

Oh, Junuary.

Each year you play Germany to my Poland, blitzkrieging your runny nose Luftwaffe, Panzer tank congestion, and goose step sneezes into my sinuses until I surrender with a weak Seig Heil and curl up on the couch with Benadryl and three boxes of Kleenex.

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