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Archive for March, 2015

March can be quite a conundrum of a month. Truly it is, or can be a month of contrasts, when one considers the weather. It is often a gentle month, with both warm and cool co-habitating in our days, our nights.

It is a month of new life, emerging from every living thing. It is a month of possible wearing toe-less shoes in the day, and snuggling under a warm blanket at night. It is a month of lengthening daylight, but dark shadows still emerging. March is a month of looking forward, to the warmth of summer, to the freedom that summer’s schedule can bring.

March is a month of dreaming of what is to come, while under the warmth of what was promised in the frigid winter months.

Just yesterday we, in the Christian church, celebrated the Triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city of peace, which has, historically, rarely been peaceful, has also been a place of contrasts.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, entering into the city of peace. The people, laying clothes and palm branches at his feet, in awe of this new king, who had been promised to give them freedom, to give them peace.

Just outside of the city, Mount Moriah. The mountain climbed by Abraham, in obedience (and trust) to God’s request that Abraham take his only son, Isaac, to sacrifice on an alter. The sacrifice, normally made with a perfect (spotless) lamb. Spotless, clean … to atone for something dirty, marred.

On that mountain, God had asked Abraham to do the unthinkable, sacrifice his own son, as the only atonement for his sins. Abraham, in his trust of his God, did what was expected of him … and then God provided a substitute, a young ram.

And now, this Easter week, we see contrasts again.

A father preparing for the sacrifice of his son, but this time, there is no other substitute.

“and he is the propitiation (atonement, sacrifice)
for our sins:
and not for ours only,
but also for the sins of the world.”

1 John 2:2

March, and Easter, in like a lamb …

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My introduction to people with special needs began as a young child, visiting my aunt’s house. My cousin, older by just a few years, is hearing impaired. She is a dear and kind-hearted soul, who loves her family with selfless abandon.

The next exposure to people with special needs was a boy at school, with Downs syndrome. He was just a year older than myself, a most friendly guy, always wearing a smile for anyone who passed. I remember seeing him in the resource room, where I volunteered in high school, being taught, loved and cared for by the most human honouring woman I’ve ever known. I remember him in church, singing every hymn by memory.

As tomorrow is World Down Syndrome Day I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite thought-provoking article and video on the subject of people who have special needs.

The first (below) is written by CTV News at 6 host, Tamara Taggart, and more importantly, a mom of three, wife of one. It is a short, worthwhile read, of Tamara’s experience being told and understanding what it means to have a son diagnosed with Down syndrome.

http://metronews.ca/voices/opinion/1317070/tamara-taggart-my-son-has-down-syndrome-and-he-is-perfect/

The next is a lengthier video … but worth every second! The interview is with Jean Vanier (son of George Vanier, Governor General in Canada in the early 1960s), and each time I listen, I am reminded of my my own reason for working with people who live with special needs, diagnosis … to treat people with dignity, with respect and with love.

Warning: this video may just change you forever (watch it anyway). http://youtu.be/m8ECGXDDYd8

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We all have different definitions of who we are depending on what image we desire to reflect, based on our stage in life, who we are with, and where we are.

The older I get, the more clearly I see myself, strengths and weaknesses alike. I find I am accepting the real me more every day, and the facades I tried to construct, in past years, are being taken apart. No more trying to be something I am not, no more rejection of who I am, and who I was uniquely created to be.

It’s a good feeling to be more … real.

Maybe it’s my undiagnosed ADD (attention deficient disorder), repressed childhood, or simply immaturity, but I have really struggled, as an adult, with rules and appropriate behavior for certain situations. The worst of which are ProD (professional development) activities at school/work. If they are not interesting, captivating and useful, the demon within me begins to emerge, and all hell breaks loose.

I remember one in particular, when we were watching a video of a very brilliant (and monotone) woman speak about a specific way to assist students who struggle with behavior control. Unfortunately, as boring as her voice was, the excess skin under her arms was … entertaining. And she waved her arms often! So entertaining that I sent a little text to a number if my colleagues in the room, comparing the effect to that of a butterfly in flight. Well, the giggles began … I am surprised I still had a job after that ProD day!

There’s my singing … sigh.

My singing is really bad, but I love to sing. I love to sing while I’m driving, while I’m working on a project, in church. But I am always aware if people around me might hear my voice. Even my kids, when they were really little, would place a finger on my lips to shush me, while singing in church.

Then there’s my sense of humor. I think I am quite witty, humorous. According to my kids … not so much!

Then there’s my horrific grammar … Included in that my gifted-ness to create a run on sentence that could compete with that of any other person on this Earth!

Then there’s my morning coffee addiction …

And, of course, my self-diagnosed ADD.

This emerges as soon as I have more than one brain cell awake, until all of my cylinders cease to fire at night. It seems to be intensifying with each year I live … starting multiple tasks and struggling to remember what I was going to say … mid sentence … which is probably for the best, since I’d lose interest in what the other person had to say, just half way through their response.

At thirty-nine (with almost seven years experience) I can honestly say, I’m okay with the weaknesses, the struggles, the immaturity within me.

There’s room to grow … and I am fully aware of it!

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Sanctuary … a place, a way of thinking, which is safe, secure; a sacred place.

“Sanctuary!”

The word shouted out by Notre Dame Cathedral bell ringer, Quasimodo, after saving Esmeralda from certain death, at the hands of Archdeacon, Claude Frollo. He was declaring to all in the city that he was declaring safety for his most real human friend, within the sacred walls of Notre Dame.

Quasimodo knew that sanctuary could be found by entering into that sacred place.

There are many places that might be sanctuary-inducing …

  • Standing in the sand, at water’s edge, as the tide ebbs and flows right in front of us.
  • Hiking up a mountain trail, where only the sounds of the birds overhead, or the crunch of our shoes on the sticks, rocks and soil below our feet can be heard.
  • Sitting in the wooden pew, where we have sat our entire life … once with a spouse and rowdy children, on a Sunday morning.
  • Or (for someone in my life) sitting at a baseball stadium, eating a stadium frank, yelling at the umpire and cheering on the ‘good guys’.

” s a n c t u a r y “

Just last Friday, at school, I approached a young man … a young man of few words, who you feel honored when he is willing to share a few with you. I asked his plans for the two week spring break. He told me he would be working with his dad. He then asked what my plans were, and I listed refinishing furniture, painting and cleaning.

He looked at me and said, “so you’re working too.”

To which I responded, “yes …” I then paused, and grinned, “but, I don’t have to talk to anyone.”

He looked at me, with a grin growing across is face, a bright light shining from his eyes, “I don’t either.”

The word sanctuary that can be an experience, such as …

  • physical labor, with no need to talk.
  • reading a novel, cover to cover.
  • a meal with family or friends.
  • a shared experience with someone you love.
  • laying in bed, in the arms of someone who loves you.

Whatever sanctuary is for you, for me, I pray we might find that sacred place this day, this week, so that we might be revived and energized in a place of safety.

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Woohoo!

After weeks of counting down, this is the final day before the start of the two week Spring Break, in our school.

Students, staff, and parents will be watching the minute hand tick around the clock, in anticipation of two weeks of rest, travel, socializing, adventures and (in many cases) house cleaning.

Not only is today the beginning of a break from the everyday, but it is also the end of the winter months of school. When we go back to work and school, we will be returning to school in spring (and that leads to summer).

There is so much to look forward to!

I love looking ahead, having a plan for the days to come, having a dream for the future. This gives me a direction to work towards, a goal to work for.

Recently, I have been convicted that, although looking ahead is okay, I cannot forget what is right in front of me.

I should not risk missing out on the life that is today, that is now.

There is a classic story which comes to mind whenever I am convicted to live in the present.

I remember reading to our kids a story called “The Magic Thread”  from the William J. Bennett book called “The Book of Virtues”. In this story a young, impatient boy, named Peter, is given a ball of thread, and told that if he chooses, he can pull the string, and advance through the boring, the unpleasant, the sad times in life. He is also told that once he has pulled the string and advanced in time, he cannot go back. He eagerly and liberally pulls the string, moving through his life at record speed. It is not until he is old that he realizes how quickly his life has passed.

“Your magic ball is a wonderful thing.
I have never had to suffer
or wait for anything in my life.
And yet it has all passed so quickly.
I feel that I have had no time to take in what has happened to me,
neither the good things, nor the bad.
Now there is so little time left.”

The Golden Thread

I need to remember to fully live my life today, while planning (not living in) the future.

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In our school, this is the season of report cards. It seems as though, for staff, that they have been in process for about a month.

In just a couple of days students and their parents will open the envelopes of doom the assessments of work, behavior and effort. There will be praises and punishments resulting from these pieces of paper. There will be triumphant cries, and tears. There will be rewards and removals of privileges.

But …

do the report cards report on learning?

That is the question of the day, within the hallowed halls of educational places all over. The traditional methods of assessing learning are being looked at from every angle. As with many traditional practices in a variety of areas of life, what is done because it has always been done that way, assessment is being evaluated.

When we read a report card, there are (generally) two important parts:

  • the mark … be it a number or letter representing a range of understanding
  • the comment … included within may be effort, behavior, an example of a situation

The mark often represents how the student has done on tests, homework and assignments. The comment can be quite subjective, reflecting the relationship between the student and teacher, as well as the observations of the teacher.

These are okay assessments … not all bad. They are not, though, complete indicators of learning.

The following image/quote would reverberate for most teachers, school administrators, educational assistants:

IMG_2178Oh sure, there are a few educators who are just in it for the money (insert extreme laughter here), the long summer breaks or who simply got into the wrong profession. But those are the rare exception, not the norm.

The desire of the educator, who is called to their work. is not that a piece of paper, handed out two or three times a year, define a student. The greatest desire is that each student learn. That each student succeed, in some way (maybe not even academically), in their life. That each student know what their passion is, and how to make it their life’s work.

Truly gifted and called educators care more about who the student becomes, rather than what the report card assesses.

May we parents all, before opening that report card, look our children in the eyes and say, “I love you. I love who you are and who you were created to be. Opening this report card will not change that reality.”

 

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Being a Mom

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Is there anything better than being a mom?

Don’t get me wrong, there are those days when I shake my head and bury my head in my pillow, while asking the Almighty what on earth I was thinking IMG_2181those three nights when I only asked for a back rub.

Most of the time, I cannot believe how blessed I am to be called “mom” by my favorite three.

As I was chatting with a woman, pregnant with her first child, last week, I realized how much time has gone by, how many experiences I have had and shared, because I am mom.

From the moment I first was confirmed pregnant, to the first moves detected from within, to those first indicators that their exit was soon to take place.

From that first eye to eye investigation of each other, to the eye spy games, to the first time I got a stink eye from them.

From the rocking them to sleep, to wresting them back to bed for the umpteenth time, to trying to wrangle their sleepy heads awake on a school day.

From the stories read in cardboard books, to the stories shared in novels, to the stores shared on social media.

From the first attempts at latching, to the first solid foods, to the meals they have made for me.

From counting toes, to counting steps, to counting kilometers on a hike.

From first steps, to first bike rides, to first time behind the wheel.

From preschool, to kindergarten, to graduation.

From tears of joy, to tears of sorrow, and back again.

From prayers for their safe arrival, to prayers shared over meals, to prayers made in faith.

IMG_2182These three have changed my life, my trajectory, me in every conceivable way. They have made me softer, harder, more consistent, more flexible.

The stretch marks, across my tummy, were the first signs of the stretching that being a mom would require. They were the predictors of what would be required of me, for the rest of my life. I have been stretched in such a way, that I have been changed, marred, tattooed by mothering.IMG_2183Recently I was talking to a friend. She shared with me that it was an anniversary of the loss of her baby … her only baby. In an instant I had whispered “thank-you” to my God for the three that He has allowed me to spend life with.

It is easy to forget, it is easy to get so consumed by living, that we forget about the blessing of life, as a mom.

I remember well those (five) times when life within, ceased to continue to grow. I remember the heartache, I remember how it seemed as though the world stopped spinning.

Today, I choose to remember those (three) times, when life was birthed … and it seemed as though the world stopped spinning … because I became a mom.

 

 

 

 

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Did you hear about the visit and speech to the U.S. congress, by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, which focused on the risk that Iran plays in regards to world peace? Have you heard about the murder of Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov? How about news regarding the three British sisters, missing and rumored to have headed to Syria with the goal of joining ISIS?

All three of those news stories (newspapers, TV, online) have been featured in just the past week, and all three of those news stories have something in common, they all remind us of instability, of threat, of fear.

Fear, birthed in the horrors of our sin-filled world, can make us yearn for a savior. A fearful world can make us wonder who might be in the right place, at the right time, to bring peace.

Just this week (Wednesday evening until Thursday evening) was the Jewish holiday, or festival, of Purim. Purim is the celebration of the saving, or deliverance, of the Jewish people, as told in the Old Testament book of Esther.

Esther, a young, orphaned, Jewish woman, living with her uncle Mordecai. She was chosen to be part of the harem of king Xerxes (she did not choose this, she probably thought that her life had gone from bad to worse).

Hamen, one of the king’s advisers, who had a bee in his bonnet for the Jews. He also happened to detest uncle Mordecai, who refused to bow to him. Hamen planned to eliminate the Jewish people from the face of the Earth.

There was great fear in the heart of Mordecai, for his people. How could those who were the lesser in that society (the Jews) ever be freed, saved? Who could be their savior?

Mordecai saw only one way to freedom … the young, female, orphan niece, who was enslaved (as a chosen queen) by the king of the castle.

She was not so sure about Mordecai’s view of her as the deliverer of their people. After all, to approach the king, unrequested, was reason alone for her death.

Mordecai challenged Esther’s doubts (Esther 4:13-14):

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house
you alone, of all the Jews, will escape ..
.
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position
for such a time as this?”

Maybe it was that her uncle’s words gave her purpose in her unappealing situation. Maybe it was that he made her realize she would perish with her people, whether she did anything or not. Whatever the case, Esther promised to go to the king, in exchange for a commitment to prayer.

In the end, she shared Hamen’s evil plan with the king, who granted safety for she and her people. They were delivered.

Oh to have such a deliverer, as we read, watch and listen to the daily news from around the world!

But, we do have one.

Though there is no mention, in the story of Esther, of God, Mordecai seems to refer to the prophesied Messiah, the deliverer of all deliverers, in Esther 4:14a:

“For if you remain silent at this time,
relief and deliverance for the Jews
will arrive from another place.”

And indeed the ultimate relief and deliverance arrived, as a babe, many years later. Through his death the redemption of all humanity was provided. Through him, world peace was achieved … if we would only believe.

Though I believe the pursuit of world peace should be in our hearts for our homes, our communities and our world. I believe, even more strongly that it will never be achieved by politics or by marches. Peace can only be achieved by Jesus, the deliverer who came for such a time as this.

   “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27
   
  

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“You could write about something cheery, for a change.”
(insert sword to the gut)

Those were the words of my daughter last weekend, as I was writing a blog post. I thought I had, but maybe the effects of monsoon season in the Pacific Northwest had gotten to me, and I have been seeing the cup half empty far too frequently. So, here goes, sunshine and lollipops are on there way!

As soon as our conversation finished the word ‘wonder’ surfaced in my mind.

Maybe it is a matter of getting back to the things that are foundational, the things that are imperative in my life. Things that make me wonder make my heart skip a beat, put a smile on my face, and breath fresh air into my lungs (and soul). To  be in a state of wonder is to be reminded that someone else holds the reigns of my life, and that He delights in the way small things can bring me joy, can remind me of His omniscience.

Things like:

  • a sunrise or sunset, bursting with color
  • a spider web covered in morning dew
  • spring bulb plants, poking through the soil
  • a shared joke, complete with full belly laughter
  • standing at a sandy waters edge as the tide pushes forward
  • an elderly couple holding hands
  • putting my arm around my beast, and feeling her lean in
  • the sight of an eagle soaring in sky
  • the sound of coyotes at night
  • a spontaneous hug from any of my kids
  • the scent of my mom
  • snow falling

There are many more things to wonder at! These are the things one cannot buy, the things that one cannot make happen easily. These things, experiences that make us wonder, remind us that we know so little, that our world is so vast.

Ray Bradbury said,

“Stuff your eyes with wonder,
live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.”

The blessing of wonder, is the blessing resulting from curiosity, and from the ability to look for beauty and delight in the world around us.

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It’s been a week filled with talk of death, confirmed and pending.

Our kids often say their friends find their relaxed, nonchalant manner of speaking of death odd. I remember one day, years ago, when one of our kids had a friend over. At dinner time I announced that dinner that night would be funeral food, and the eyes of our visitor popped from her head. What followed was a discussion of how sometimes, when there is food left over from a funeral or memorial reception, it gets shared with those who were involved in the service. As hubby is a pastor, who officiates many such services, he sometimes gets offered a plate of the left overs. This is not a normal event for the typical household.

Our kids are often privy to the technical details of funeral planning, of the humanity and humor of funeral directors. They hear of their dad’s visits with those who are dying, and of the stages leading up to the final earthly breath a soul makes. They have heard him speak, eyes heavy, voice unsteady, of having visited so one for the final time, knowing that he will not see them again until reaching that Fovererland of eternity. This job of pastor is as much about saying goodbye as saying welcome.

I like that our kids are growing up in an environment where they see and know that death is part of life. That grieving and tears are okay. That loss touches everyone. That no man or woman is an island, and death touches many.

I also like the frequent reminders that death is inevitable, because death, more than anything else, reminds me to live.

Last week, with each Facebook update, my heart paused, my lungs emptied of their air, my eyes filled, my throat swelled. Death is around the corner for a woman, and cancer is the vehicle that is driving her there.

A young mom, who I’ve only met a couple of times, yet she has been on my prayer list off and on for the past eight to ten years that she has battled this disease. She, her husband and three (nearing, and into adolescence) children have been give the news that their wife and mom only has days, maybe short weeks to share a smile, a laugh, share the embrace that says security and unconditional love.

When I read that update, the one that spoke of a time limit for this life, I sighed, heavy.

Then I thought to myself, how would I live my life, today, if I knew it was one of my last on Earth? Particularly, how would I live today, as a mom?

I’ve decided not to share how I would live, but I am challenging each of us to ask this question of ourselves. I am challenging each of us to live, today, as if we knew it to be one of our last.

I also ask you to please pray for this woman, and her family as they all walk her, together, to heaven’s gate.

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