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Sing

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes (Matt Redman)

Return to the scene of the crime – the day I let the music die – and rewrite the final line, and this time…. (Sara Bareilles)

There’s a picture in my head of a lady I once knew.

She loved to sing.

In the photo I remember, she rests in a hospital bed.

Singing.

Waiting.

Left arm raised, eyes closed.

Singing, waiting.

There’s another picture in my head of a girl I once was.

She too loved to sing.

And for the better part of a decade, it seemed that wherever she went, people wanted her to sing. Not so much because she was good at it, but because she put her whole self in it.

There’s something powerful about a song that demands all of you.

It’s the kind of song that transcends both lyrics and music to something else altogether.

It’s the kind of song I used to sing.

Used to.

Two months ago, a group of leaders I know were asked to share the people who’d had the biggest impact on who they’ve become.

I volunteered to go first, but by the time I’d heard from the rest of the room, I wished I could take my answer back, or at the very least, edit it.

The maturity of the ladies in that room humbled me.

See, in my early years I’d learned that the sweet spot of growth is when we’ve got the input of those wiser and further along the journey than us, and when we turn what we’ve received from those wise people to invest in those just a few steps behind us.

Except I’m learning now that the sweet spot is less traveled than many of us would wish.

In a season where I’ve been navigating loss on a few different levels, I was now faced with the newfound realization of just how much abundance I’d been given

in those I deeply respect

who’d bothered to take the time

to patiently,

persistently,

and

gently

not only know me and all of my weaknesses,

but also to

experience the

full-blown immaturity

of those weaknesses,

while not going anywhere.

You know those moments where people describe their lives flashing before their eyes?

I had one this week.

Only it wasn’t a near-death experience.

Pulling ourselves together in some of the coldest stretch of weather us weak-willed, easily-chilled,  west-coasters have ever seen,

our family pressed through the remaining achy-ness of the flu

and trekked our way to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

only to find out that most of Abbotsford

and Langley

had come along with us.

It was a night like no other,

filled with reunions

of all those who knew us when

and songs we all used to sing

led by those who’d inspired many of us to sing in the first place.

And that night I went back to this moment I’d had a few months ago.

It turns out that many of those who’d had the greatest impact on my growing up years

also taught me to sing.

When I woke up this morning I read a story about two men who were singing in the middle of the night –

in prison.

Jailed, shackled to each other, and shivering, they led those around them in songs of

joy,

even through an earthquake.

I mean, what kind of insanity is that?

What reason did they have to sing?

Fourteen years ago this February,

I stood in an old barn-turned-gymnasium

on a Sunday night

with hundreds of others

who’d dedicated their time

to capturing a glimpse of what our songs were like back then.

It’s not a recording I listen to often.

Not only is it strange to hear your own voice,

the memories are so fresh I don’t need to consciously remember them.

And it’s not a coincidence that the lyrics assigned to me were ones of certainty amid trouble.

As I opened my mouth to sing the last song, I looked up at the crowd around us.

Thirty feet in front of me stood my dad.

He would die in the next six months.

And while I didn’t know that then, I still had this sense of a moment happening.

I remember saying something right before we sang that last, oh-so-well-known-song,

something to the effect of

Some of us here need to sing this even though we don’t feel it.

It’s when things are least well that we need to remind ourselves that we are well.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the decade and a half since,

it’s that

it’s the things we don’t feel like singing

that we need to sing the most.

Which is why is surprises me to think that within half a decade of that Sunday night

I wasn’t singing much of anything.

I could point to a thousand different circumstances

or the sins of a hundred different people

to explain that.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is,

I just. stopped. singing.

Then came January of 2009.

Drives to the chemo clinic replaced treks to the grocery store. Plans for vacation became plans for getting through each day.

Feeding my babies.

Making meals.

Wrestling with the worst pain of my life.

Until one day, coming off the Patullo Bridge, a tiny sign in a corner of a strip mall caught my eye:

Pianos.

Pull over, I told my husband.

I needed to see my old instrument.

And in this warehouse of more pianos than I could count, it was a shiny black one off to the side that tugged me towards it.

Perhaps it was the lack of audience, perhaps it was the fresh knowledge that there are no guarantees,

but for the first time in six years

I let myself sit down

and play.

After about twenty minutes, I startled to find an older man a few feet behind me.

He introduced himself as the owner of the store.

Sorry for taking over your instrument, I quickly apologized.

Don’t, he said. You can come and play anytime you like.

It’s like he knew we didn’t have a piano at home, or that something far more serious was going on.

I thanked him and got up to leave.

Halfway out the door, I heard him call,

You have great taste, by the way.

I turned back.

Sarah McLachlan bought that piano last week.

And a little smile grew in my heart.

I turned to David:

I think its time we get a piano.

He nodded. I know.

It’s been too long since I sang.

He nodded again.

Months later, as my cancer levels dropped and my hair thinned out, we found a fallen-off-the-truck baby grand that fit our price range.

It barely made the stairs to our house. Two inches longer and it wouldn’t have made the turn into our piano room, a half-level above our main floor.

But as I sat down to play, something else was different.

The song was different.

It fell … flat.

I don’t like talking about this with people who know me.

These years, the era of singing, feels silly and foolish and

over.

The written and spoken word has somehow become an easier, less vulnerable way to work through the unfinished pieces of my heart.

And so I moved on from that Lana.

I told myself I’d matured.

Evolved.

One season was over and another had begun.

It never occurred to me that in doing so I was being inconsistent with myself.

See, my favorite books to read are books of history.

My favorite stories are stories of history.

Not just stories of who-did-what-and-when, but why and how and because of this.

These are the layers that most of us never see or fully understand in those around us.

And its these untold histories that I find the most fascinating.

You know when you witness a reaction from another person that seems disproportionate to the situation and an observer says, there’s some history there,

That’s where you know the interesting stuff is.

It’s also when you know to stop asking questions. These aren’t details everyone needs to – or should – know. Because the places where there’s history there are

often the most personal,

vulnerable,

and less-shiny places.

Not everyone needs to know them,

nor should we constantly let our minds speculate about them

if we’ve not been invited in to them.

But it is curious to me that while these moments that a handful of others sometimes graciously allow me to see are the same moments I’m so reluctant to show.

Perhaps we’re all just a little bit ashamed of our own histories.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have reason to be.

Two years ago this week I wrote about the need to allow those we’ve known the longest become a new version of themselves. True friends – and healthy families – don’t just try to stuff each other back into the same old boxes they’ve always filled out, but genuinely allow each other to grow.

Except now I wonder if that’s only part of it.

Because while we’ve all done things to be ashamed about, knowing our own histories – the ins and outs and where we went wrong and where we turned a right corner – might be essential to our survival.

It all depends on the lens we choose.

We can choose the rose-colored lens, editing out the bad, remembering only the good.

Most people call this nostalgia.

But wistful sentimentality rarely helps us move forward.

If left unchecked, it can inspire a melancholic lust of the good ol’ days that will never be found again.

On the other hand, there is the ashen lens, editing out the good and remembering only the terrible.

Only the terrible swallows us up.

We have no choice but to build a wall between ourselves and the selves we used to be.

We might not call it as it is, but those around us will hear it for what its produced:

Cold-hearted,

ascerbic,

destructive,

bitterness.

And while nostalgia will leave us naively vulnerable to unhealthy repeats of ours – and others – worst mistakes, bitterness will cut us off from any real community, making us allergic to healthy, long-term relationships.

Which is actually what most of us want.

So if looking back both too often and too little will leave us bereft, what’s left in this season of remembrance, reflection, and endless gatherings of those you don’t always know so well and those who know you all too well?

This fall hit our family with a bang on so many levels. School, work, and relationships collided for one of the most intense periods of loss I’ve ever known.

There were moments – many of them – where I didn’t know what was good anymore.

And while they were just a series of really horrible days, they seemed that they would last forever,

that this was our new normal.

And it felt. just. awful.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled on a book called Choosing Gratitude.

It promised I’d find joy no matter what my circumstances were.

Yes, please, and yeah, right warred back and forth in my mind.

Yes, please, must have won out, because I read the book.

I think because I just didn’t know what else to do.

And slowly, over those next sixty days, my stiff, chilly heart started to thaw.

It wasn’t rose-colored or grey lenses I needed at all.

It was the crystal-clear ones

the kind like my oldest daughter puts on each morning,

those that allow her farsightedness to come into perfect alignment,

the kind that permits all colors and lines and shades into her vision for a

more complete picture.

So at the end of a month of challenging myself to a gratitude challenge, I had a blog all ready to go.

I read it now and realize it for the sanctimonious awfulness it would have been.

But it seemed like everything was building to this moment where I, on the heels of my thirty-day gratitude challenge, could march into my oncologist’s office and finally hear those magical words of

in remission.

Back in March, we were so close.

It seemed it was only a matter of time.

We’d even started to make plans as if it were true.

Think positive, our world always tells us, right?

But all the positive thinking in the world can’t change things that are beyond our control.

No superfood or naturopath or magic bullet theory of health and wellness

guarantees any of us an abundance of next breaths and endless days

living exactly as we wish for.

(That requires Someone outside of us.)

So when I learned that instead of my levels of the cancer gene being not findable or in complete molecular response or even closer to that magical level of remission,

but instead a little bit worsenot a lot worse, still good, still okay, just not what I wanted –

I came home and cried.

I was so, so ready for this to be over. For the era of cancer to be complete.

What use was gratitude in this?

It took a week or so, plus the firm words of those who know better than me –

to climb the seven steps to the half-level above our living room

where our slightly-dented, too-often-under-used, shiny black baby grand sits.

And I sat.

And I opened the books of the songs I used to sing.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, You have taught me to say

It is well with my soul.

Friends,

the complete picture of our lives

is not the tiny little fragment we can see right now.

Its the snapshots from all the moments that make us who we are today

and all the moments left to come

even though we have no idea what they will be.

If I’ve learned one thing this fall, its that on the mornings I wake and see nothing to be thankful for,

I can dip into my history.

And it turns out there’s plenty of reasons to sing.

Not the least of which is,

I’m still here.

Eight years later.

The thing is,

There’s so much responsibility that goes with it.

How many get an unusual extension on their lives and use it on themselves, cultivating selfishness and greed in the name of carpe diem, or worse, take it as a sign that God-loves-them-better-than-others or that they-had-more-faith or took-better-care-of-themselves and then develop a five-step plan for how the rest of the world can be awesome like them?

It’s nauseating, really.

What my children would remember of me if I’d died when the disease said I should have, back in the wee moments of 2009, would have been, well,

nothing.

There’s the great responsibility: I’ve lived long enough for them to remember me.

Oh dear.

I asked Noelle the other day if it was better that she remember her mom or that she didn’t? What would be easier?

Ever so thoughtfully, she spoke with her usual conviction.

Definitely that I would remember you.

It was the end of a truly horrible parenting day, one in which at least two apologies were required of me if my children were going to have any sort of compassion for the nastiness they saw in their mother. So I’m not sure if its bravery or an insane need to know the whole truth about myself that prompted me to ask them at the end of this kind of day

what they would remember about me.

Elliana said:

that you stayed in your pyjamas every day until you had to go somewhere.

(Truth).

Noelle said:

that you taught us… everything. You teach us everything, Mom.

That’s the thing – I do.

Good, bad, ugly. Everything I do and say teaches them something.

And if I’ve not taught them how to sing in the fiercest storm, I haven’t done my job.

So, self.

So, friends.

It’s time. Old songs, new songs, and everything in between.

It’s time to sing.

I warn you,

It’s the kind of song that will demand all of us.

But I think we’ll find

that at the end of it

the words will be a little more true,

things will be a little more right

and our eyes will see a little more clearly

just how well it is.

 

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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

 

Restraint

On Janus, there is no reason to speak. Tom can go for months and not hear his own voice. He knows some keepers who make a point of singing, just like turning over an engine to make sure it still works. But Tom finds freedom in the silence. He listens to the wind. He observes the tiny details of life on the island. – M.L. Stedman, ‘The Light Between Oceans.’


I know. I’m behind on blogging.

I could give a variety of  excuses:

1. Our winter homeschool activity schedule.  The girls love gymnastics, but it may have been the thing that tipped me from happy homeschooling mama to off-kilter, crazy lady. Considering the encouragement I receive from steady, faithful, fellow homeschooling mamas while we watch our children learn to tumble, though, I’ll be sad to see these ten weeks be over.

Read more

Brave

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller

Some days, I just don’t know what I’d do without my friends.

Well, maybe I do. Maybe I don’t want to think about it. Maybe I don’t want you guys to know that. Maybe there’s a tiny part of us that is unfit for any other human to know, see, or understand,

even those we trust the most.

I firmly believe in the power of community.

Nothing hard is conquered in isolation. Nothing painful is endured so well as within a safe community.

But even the safest community can be – at times – dangerous.

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The Rightness of Being Wrong

Last weekend a friend told me about some people she knew who took two years off their North American dream and worked in Saudi Arabia.

They came home and retired on the savings.

Huh.

I love British Columbia. I love Vancouver. I even love (most of) Vancouver’s suburbs. But it is insanely expensive to live here. The ability to do what these people did – to live with little to no financial stress – is wildly appealing.

Except I wouldn’t do so well in Saudi Arabia.

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I’m Fine, Because I’m Not

‘I’m fine’: 1) the more polite way to say, ‘no, get lost.’  2)The general response to any question asking how you are doing or feeling. – Urban Dictionary

The ability to lie is a liability. – Unknown

I have a horrible memory of eighth grade – I forget which class it was. We played a game that required making up a lie on the spot that the rest of the class would believe.  (I know, seriously, what were they teaching us?!).

At my turn I started to sweat and looked at the ceiling.  I felt myself flush as I sputtered through the worst improv ever.

A kid in the back row laughed his head off.

You’re not a good liar, are you?

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Photographic Memory

Yesterday should have been a very, very sad day in our house.

Except… it wasn’t.

Our beloved hockey team’s season ended too short once again.

Some of you are relieved. Others are happy. And a rather large selection of you so-called friends are ridiculously happy that us doomed Canuck faithful are sentenced to yet another painful ending.

I love you. But I don’t understand you.

(Don’t worry, you don’t need to explain. I will never understand you. Or, that part of you, at least.)

But there are a few who today, like me, are sad, somewhat confused, and yet… okay.

It’s only a game, of course.

But a great game.

(High fives to all who agree.)

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