Skip to content

Posts from the ‘The Power of Community’ Category

Life Hacks

You uproot me from ruin and You plant me to blossom – A. Geddert/A. Ellsworth

There are the rare and beautiful treasures that grow when it’s coldest, when nobody’s watching – Christy Nockels

 

A little-known Meredith-fam fact:

We reaaaalllllly like crazy road trips.

Wait –

Most of you know that.

But what you might not know is that we do them because

we

mostly –

like the gobs of time together.

Once our girls were old enough to survive long hours in the car, these kinds of climbing-mountains-while-crossing-a-megametre (ask Dr. Dave about that one) in-a-day sorts of trips became our favourites.

And it used to be that, yeah, we’d be those parents.

You know, the ones where the car DVD player reallly does the parenting.

And it used to be that, yeah, with the girls tuned out, or tuned in, or whatever iGen is calling it these days,

their parents

would listen to podcasts

or audiobooks

or music

or one of us would sleep while the other drove,

and all of those were good things.

But lately, that’s not how its gone.

Lately, we’ve done some of our best creative work – quite literally – on the road.

Take last year, for example.

We drove to Disney in record time (and with record frugality),

and I can barely remember a podcast we listened to.

Sure, there were bouts of rocking-out-via-air-bass-guitar to crazy playlists of eclectic music

because who doesn’t like doing THAT?!?

Come on. You know you love it.

Also. If you do do this, have any of you figured out the bass line to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”? If so, please teach us. It seems to be in its own time signature.

But back to the long road trip hours.

Mostly, we spent them just … talking.

Sometimes it was only David and I; other times, the four of us; other times, a combination of the two.

And the conversations that happened were incredible.

I guess in some seasons, life happens while you’re driving.

Take the first road trip of this summer.

We were headed to a family wedding through the Rockies. I was feeling a bit…. erhm…

Overwhelmed.

There were situations external to me that somehow involved me yet didn’t truly impact me but still roped me in. All of them ramped up and weighed a little heavier leading up to the big day.

By the time we pulled in to a little hole-in-the-wall burger joint we found just off the Crows Nest,

My stress level was nearing epic proportions.

My intuitive husband sensed the shift and asked what he could do for me.

And in the interest of being more honest, because real friends deserve real answers,

and, if anyone is – even in the years we were ‘not-dating-but-arguing-in-the-cafeteria-over-whose-country-of-origin-is-best,’

or when I confidently asserted that I could safely promise ‘never to marry David Meredith,’

(you can see why one of our friends fell over when she found out we were dating)

he is a real friend.

So he got a real answer:

And as one who’s witnessed more than his fair share of labour stories and prenatal class prep-and-debriefs,

he knew exactly what to do:

Distract, distract, distract.

– Have you ever watched those Life Hack channels on YouTube?

I hadn’t.

– I’ve always thought someone should do a parody of them. You know, like a channel of really, really terrible advice,

from someone who’s completely clueless,

but acting like an expert,

with really … erhm… creative logic.

I paused and turned the thought over in my head.

I stopped thinking about all the things that were causing me to hyperventilate.

And asked for more.

Like, I don’t know, using Peppermint oil for eye drops – because it keeps them… moist.

He gives me a deadpan sideways glance to guage my reaction.

I double over.

You’ve used peppermint oil, right?

It makes everything burn. Or go numb. Or both, at the same time.

Achieving his goal, he keeps going:

– Or, like, using sriracha sauce for lip balm, because, it like, mimics blood or something.

All of a sudden I notice the girls have turned off their movie.

The little one pipes in first.

Ohhhhhhhhh. Can I be your fashion consultant? You need a realllly terrible outfit.

The almost-four-teen-ager has a more serious goal:

I am sooooo helping you write those scripts.

And, before we know it, Life Hacks with Dr. Dave is born.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to know that it is

literally

the

craziest. thing.

we have evvvvvvvverrrrrr come up with.

So, of course, we did what anyone would do:

We tell our friends.

We must have realllllly great friends,

or maybe? a really great idea,

or – here’s hoping? – a combination of the two,

because they love it.

And immediately want in.

So, on a dreary, rainy, greyest-of-summer-Sundays-you-can-imagine, we shoot the first two episodes.

And, on the week before his 40th birthday,

YouTube gets to see

what I have always known:

My husband is one of the goofiest men alive.

For the rest of our car trip, Dr-Dave-brainstorming does what it’s supposed to:

Distract me from the real-life crazy.

The problem is, as I’ve been learning lately:

distraction only takes you so far.

Anyone who’s heard me talk about labour and delivery for longer than five minutes will probably have heard me explain the brain-chemistry-theory that shows us that

distraction

(aka. refocusing our attention)

might be the most powerful labour support tool we have.

And – for the first stage – the stage where we are getting ready to push the baby out –

it is.

But different stages of labour demand different things from us.

The first stage requires us to learn to let the pain come and do its thing.

And the best way to do that is to think about anything but the pain.

Allllllll the things that make us happy are preferable.

But once its time to push, distraction no longer cuts it.

I remember this moment verrrry clearly with my second.

I knew it was time to push.

I turned over from my hanging-over-the-top-of-the-bed-with-laughing-gas-in-hand-thank-you-very-much-position

and told my co-worker-nurse:

It’s time.

She checked me and confirmed my suspicion.

The problem was – I wouldn’t let go of the laughing gas.

My nurse tugged gently at the cord I was gripping with the strength of ten-thousand Amazonian armies to release it,

and – through gritted teeth – I told her:

no. don’t. even. think. about. it.

I wasn’t ready to let go of the thing that got me through the first stage.

A couple of years ago, I was in a similar place:

Not in labour, but in life.

Around that time, I wrote about how the labour pains in our lives seemed to be lasting longer, feeling stronger, and coming closer together.

Paul warned us that’s how it would be:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.

And we know that because we see that, yes?

This week alone, the weight of sheer tragedies and joys-amidst-tragedies that I’ve witnessed in family, friends, acquaintances, our city and community,

-not to mention the ones our own family lives day-to-day-

is staggering.

The depth of pain hitting those who seem to have everything to live for astounds me.

Suffering is no respecter of persons, friends.

It hits the young, the healthy, the bold, the prosperous.

Those who’ve done everything right

and

those who’ve done very little right.

It hits those of us who think we’ve already been hit more than our fair share, too.

And it often seems to be horribly, frustratingly random.

We’d love for it to be cause-and-effect; for bad things to happen to bad people, for pain to come only from stupid choices or ill intents.

We’d love that because we’d all like to think that we are good people who don’t deserve bad things and that those who get bad things somehow earned them.

Of course, if that’s true, then as long as we do all the right things, we can escape tragedy.

But it doesn’t work like that.

I was in the best shape of my life when I got leukemia.

Once our family learned to adjust to the new normal, though we didn’t realize it at the time,  we each made an unspoken, unconscious deal with God:

Fine, we’ll do this. But no more.

And there was so, so, so much more to come.

Longer trials, each feeling stronger than the one before, and coming much closer together.

Each were heartbreaks of a different sort that made the little white pills I have (get!) to take every day seem like child’s play.

The biggest ones have come in the last five years.

I remember the first hitting like a ton of bricks.

At the beginning, my eyes could only see the things I’d lost.

It shook some of the unconscious fundamental beliefs of my life:

at least I know _____ will never happen

only holds up as long as

that thing doesn’t happen.

If and when it actually does,

(and its usually when)

we are left to find firm ground in the earthquake.

Sometimes – many times – we reach out and grab whatever seems to not be moving around us.

Those early days of 2015, that’s what I did.

I see it now for the poor choice it was, but at the time it was all I knew to do.

Of course, it slipped through my fingers.

I didn’t see my mistake right away, though.

I reached out for the next firmest thing and hung on.

It, too, slid away.

And so on, and so on, one thing after another.

Until about two years ago.

The summer of 2017 something else started to shift.

Deep within me, I knew these labour supports I’d previously reached out for were no longer cutting it.

I no longer wanted to be distracted.

Instead, I wanted to know what the pain was for.

I wanted to use it,

somehow.

I didn’t know how.

I just knew change was coming, and I didn’t want to start it.

So – I fought it. I told myself it didn’t have to happen, that I could keep things the way they always had been and still press on to new ground.

And then it came anyways:

Ugly and

horrible and

leaving a gaping hole in its wake.

And for the rest of that year, I was left to wonder how it all happened.

While 2018 is sometimes jokingly referred to in our house as ‘The Lana Sleep,’ in reality, I didn’t do so much sleeping as feeling.

And while it didn’t feel good, the beauty of that horrible gaping hole was that

there was really no way to fully distract myself from the pain.

I didn’t need distraction.

I needed to feel. it.

So I did.

Like that moment when my co-worker-nurse-friend tried to tug the laughing gas away from me, so I could meet my second daughter,

I didn’t want to.

I tried to hang on to my gas.

Even if I couldn’t use it, I just held on.

And I pushed.

Or, so I thought.

Fifteen minutes later, I asked my nurse how I was doing.

Her face said it all:

I hadn’t done much of anything.

I’d been too afraid of the pain.

But then one of my co-worker-friends got in my face and said,

come on, now. let’s be done with this.

Push.

I knew she was right.

It’s just that the closer you get to the finish line, the more it hurts.

The closer you are to delivery, the more your body stretches to make room for the new life coming.

But it doesn’t feel like stretching.

It feels like burning.

Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us pull back when we feel the burn.

And that’s what I’d been doing.

With Elliana’s labour.

And – before the gaping hole.

Of course, after the hole came anyways –

as we knew, deep down, it would –

I had nowhere to go but to sit in it.

To push into the burn.

And for the rest of 2018, I did.

I didn’t know what birth was coming.

Truthfully, I didn’t expect a birth at all.

It just seemed like death, and more death.

It wasn’t until the waning daylight hours of the first day of the new year that I realized

maybe death was not all there was.

Funnily enough, it was in the midst of sharing gut-wrenching pieces of the pressing-through-the-burn journey with some of those who’d witnessed it and asked to be invited in,

that the tears were interrupted

with the spark of new life.

It was about my kids, of course.

And for the next eight weeks, I mulled over all the things that happened in the first twenty-four hours of the year

and let my head swim

with possibility.

I started to pay attention.

In some ways, I saw my children for the first time.

I saw their wounds, gaps, and vulnerabilities: places I could step into and help them heal.

But I also saw, in each of them,

New Life.

Beauty.

Joy.

Laughter.

And I thought, seriously.

Where have I been?

Though I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, or why, I pulled each of them in closer, one day at a time.

Layers began to fall off.

There was so much I’d missed out on.

They could feel it too.

Some where around mid-May, my oldest said to me:

you know, Mom, I really liked you when I was little.

Like, really liked you.

I would have loved it if you had played Barbies with me more.

I get why you didn‘t.

But that’s what I wished you’d done.

A wave of … something … washed over me – regret, sure.

Repentance for being distracted by my own stuff, that, in light of her gentle truth, seemed so insignificant.

And after that, something like … hope.

I could still play Barbies with her.

It wasn’t about the Barbies, after all.

It was about stepping into her life and being present.

So, I did.

And. Wow.

She’s in a labour of sorts too. The tension between child and adult pulls at her in ten thousand directions and I hardly know which one is going to pull harder or when the other side will show up.

But she doesn’t need me to have all the answers.

She just needs me to be there.

She needs to know that even if all the things that make her happy right now come crashing down, I’ll still be there.

Laughing,

crying,

grieving,

rejoicing.

Doesn’t matter.

She just wants me to be there.

At least for now.

So as long as she wants that,

I don’t want to miss it.

And while I’m far from figuring this all out,

this is the most fun I’ve ever had as a parent.

It’s why I went into labour and delivery to begin with. The privilege of witnessing a woman’s transformation to motherhood is, frankly, breathtaking.

Its not always pleasant, of course.

I’ve been yelled at, sworn at, kicked, pressured, lashed out at, and blamed for all sorts of things that had nothing to do with me.

I’ve seen things most people would never even imagine could be a part of my job.

But I also get to be there for a baby’s first cry.

I get to tell women, yes, they’re real and yes, they’re here.

And while I flirt with other job opportunities from time to time, I can’t imagine missing out on those moments.

They really are breathtaking.

The problem is, I think we, as a community – even as a culture – are so afraid of the pain involved, that not only are we afraid to go through labour ourselves,

we’re even more afraid to walk through it with others.

Which is heart-breaking,

because we all know the labours of life tend to come when we least expect it

and we also all know

that women in labour shouldn’t be left alone.

I mean – I get it.

Stepping into the mess is risky.

Sometimes we have great reasons for our hesitance. Sometimes we’ve been in unhealthy spaces not-too-long before, places where boundaries blurred and hearts broke and our minds and hearts lost the ability to tell real connection from a pretend closeness.

Or sometimes we have so much of our own things to carry that we think we have nothing left over or nothing worthwhile to offer.

I’ve been there.

A few years ago, my youngest tugged on my shirt sleeves

– and on my heart strings –

and begged me to have over her new friend and her family.

And I remember thinking at the time,

I don’t have time for this. I don’t have the gift of hospitality. I don’t have a big house. I’m not that much of a cook and my living room is never as clean as I’d like it to be.

I’m not really someone who knows how to make new people feel comfortable.

This is gonna be awkward

and oh my, what if they bring their boys?

I don’t know what to do with boys!

Over the next few weeks, of course, it became absolutely clear this inviting this new family over was what we were supposed to do.

So.

I squeezed my eyes shut,

asked for Help,

and sent the text.

Set the table.

Made the food.

Opened the door.

And said, hey there.

And.

Just.

Wow.

A little more than two years later, I can’t imagine if we hadn’t.

We all would have missed out on so, so much

not the least of which

is a lights-out,

tear-inducing,

mic-dropping,

fist-pumping,

testimony to the Writer of all great stories

Who heals the brokenness of anyone who realizes the mess they’re in and asks.

I tell you this

because

it was something I almost didn‘t do,

and I think there might be a few of you

in the same place I was.

Someone around you might be in labour,

and they’re willing to let you in,

and while you have a stirring to be in it with them

you’re afraid to take the risk.

Friends, please.

For your sake and theirs,

Do. It.

As our pastor said this morning –

if you do, you’ll see strangers become family.

And praise God, we have.

See,

In the middle of a season where our life was far from what we wished it was,

we more clearly saw the gaps in the lives of those around us.

Some of those brave souls invited us in.

Without even really knowing what we were doing,

fumbling and guessing as we went,

we managed to step into their stuff and say,

you’re not a stranger here.

We’ll walk with you.

Of course,

when we first sent that text,

we had no idea

that they’d step into our stuff too.

And I guess that’s the real life hack.

We have very little control over making our life the way we want it to be.

But experiencing the gap between what we have and what we wish was

enables us

to see with a little more clarity

others

who are also walking in that gap.

And, sometimes, we have a bit of what they need

to make the gap a bit smaller.

Or less traumatic.

Or less… lonely.

Regardless,

that’s what people who have known what its like to be on the outside do.

They welcome in.

Even – especially –

when it feels awkward, unpleasant, or impossible.

And that doesn’t depend on how clean our houses are, or what kind of food we’re making, or

how big our house is.

But I’ll say more about that –

later.

I’ve got people coming over who haven’t been here before.

Because that’s what we do now.

We send the invite.

We set the table.

We open the door, ask for Help, and say

hey there.

We press right into the burn

and know now

we will see new life.

Friends – I hope you’ll try it.

I think – no, I know – you’ll be blown away.

After all, it’s the only Life Hack I know.

For the rest, there’s Dr. Dave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

New

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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?

Read more

%d bloggers like this: