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Archive for the ‘FAMILY’ Category

As the day of your birth approached, I was thinking about the dreams I have had over the years for you, my first born daughter.

Dreams about how you would make the world a better place.

My first, and most grand dream was pretty basic … that you live. For those of us who have known loss before that first breath this basic sign of life becomes the grandest dream.

Actually, it is probably similar to your grandest dreams for those who you work with, as an addictions counsellor … that they might continue to have the breath of life.

I have watched you, heard you share stories from your work … stories that break my heart, leave me with questions that I later pour out in prayer. I hear these stories with ears of a momma … aching for the aching, for what they are missing in life, for the traumas that they have experienced that have led them to such destruction.

I see your heart most clearly when I hear you speak of those you work with in your day (and night) job. I hear your hopes for their futures, I sense the hints of your dreaming for them, for their lives.

And here, in your workplace … whether in your office, or on the streets of a ‘skid row’ (in the middle of the night … ), or over a coffee, or at a park, or as they are coming off a high, or as you administer Naloxone to save their lives …

YOU are making a difference in your world.

Matthew 25 tells us the parable of the sheep and the goats. It is the final parable that Jesus shares (final things said and done should be noted because … they were Jesus final attempt at telling us how to live).

“The King will say to them, `Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things …

  • filling in forms for people who need help
  • finding a safe place for someone to live, to sleep
  • administering Narcan, in a drive thru, to someone who is turning blue, after overdosing on an opioid … after a long day working in a drug treatment residence
  • taking a kid to get the first food they’ve eaten in days
  • being threatened by someone for supporting a teen girl who needed to leave a dangerous home environment
  • sitting and hearing the woes of an addict, while silently suffering with your own physical pain
  • hearing the stories of sexual abuse of teens by boyfriends, uncles, fathers, brothers, foster parent and on, and on, and on again

… for one of the least important of these, you did them for me!'”

You are living the dream, girl. You have breath in your lungs and you are using what you have been uniquely gifted and called to do, in a way that can change someone’s day, their life, this world.

This work you do it beyond what I had dreamed for you … but not beyond what your Creator made you fully equipped to fulfil.

I am so proud of how you love and help those who in our society are often seen as the least.

Happy birthday sweet girl.

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Twenty one years ago I was only nine years older than you are now, when I pushed, you emerged, took your first breath and wailed.

Where did those twenty-one years go?

All parents ask the question, but the reality is, we know where they went.

They went through all hours of the night for the first weeks. The most precious middle of the night wake ups are when a woman knows it’s the last.

The years were used up living in the imaginary world of Thomas the Tank Engine as well as collecting, building, tearing apart and building with Lego.

They were spent in the pool wearing your ‘pissers’, kicking the can with the neighbor kids, trying to catch the dog as she raced through the field behind our house.

They were passed quickly on the football field, the stage and playing video games late into the night with your fellow gamers, at youth group events and at friend’s houses.

Days, no weeks were spent travelling all the way to Florida … and back, ingesting a daily diet of hot dogs.

Sweet times of ‘snugs ‘n nugs’ with the girls. Giants games or Subway (“eat flesh”) with your dad. Sushi dates with me.

So many shared movies from Marvel to DC to Harry Potter, Star Wars and The Rings.

Drives to camp and back … so many drives down that highway.

Travels to Cannon Beach, Mexico, ALL of the south states, the East Coast, Ontario, New Zealand, Thailand.

Where did those twenty-one years go?

Time flies, my son. In a blink you grew from a newborn to starting kindergarten, to high school graduation, to flying off down under, to right now … where you stand at the cusp of another stage.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”

Gandalf

This precious gift of life is filled with an unknown amount of time that we can never recapture. Once it is lived it is in the past … gone.

Colossians 4:5b tells us to “redeem the time” or make the most of your time. See the value of not just your years, but the days, even the minutes. Consider how you will spend your time … for it flies ever so quickly.

Happy 21 … may the next twenty-one be as memory-filled.

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We’ve all heard them, maybe even spoken of ourselves (as the child or the parent). Idioms that communicate that a child is so very similar in looks, behavior or attitude.

“Well doesn’t she just take right after you”

“That apple didn’t fall far from the tree”

“He’s a chip off the old block”

Genetics are an amazing thing. Yet, there is also the question of nature or nurture?

As a Christian, we might even look to the negative attitudes, habits and behaviors as generational curses … leaving us a little less personally ‘guilty’ for the nasties that we bring to life.

Yet, in Ezekiel 18 we are reminded”

“The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (v. 20).

In this account we are reminded that God does not see us through our families, he sees us, our choices, our actions and attitudes as individuals who are free and responsible to make our own choices … even when we have been nurtured a certain way.

If we grow up in a home where physical abuse happened, it is our responsibility to not continue inflicting pain on others (seek counselling).

If we grow up in a home where we saw substance abuse, we must do whatever we can to avoid that substance (join a 12-step program for loved ones of substance abuse users/addicts).

If we grow up in a home where passive aggressive behavior was the norm, choose to live differently (learn to be assertive (not aggressive), to speak what is on your mind, stop reading into the motivations of others).

As I read back, those suggestions might sound far easier, far more simplistic than the reality is for those living in tough situations, with not the best role models.

Then there is the parent or grandparent who inflicted the pain … is there any hope for them?

Ann Voskamp tells a story that kind of stopped me in my tracks:

“I knew a guy who said: “Dad – I need you to say that I’m enough …”

Sometimes what you want most is your father/mother) to give you the greatest gift: For them to believe in you.

But his father turned to him and said – I can’t. Because my own father never said it to me.”

What your father (mother) never gave you, may be because it was something he/she never had.

This can be an unspoken bond with the one who has wounded you? You both carry the same wounds.

You can’t deeply love your parents – until you grieve the deep wounds of their life.

Even now, we could be the ones to say what every parents long to hear: “I love you and nothing you’ve ever done or ever failed to do will change how I forever love you.

I’m not ashamed of you but I acclaim you, for the battles that count as wins because you kept getting up again.”

https://annvoskamp.com/2020/06/what-all-our-hurting-hearts-need-most-this-fathers-day/

In this world where we encourage the elimination of toxic people from our lives, we forget that our scars can be the ointment that heals others … and that can be the miracle cure for our own. For our scars may, indeed, be very similar … originating from a common source.

We need to remember that God does not look at us through the sins of generations before us, he sees us for who we are as his child. It is how we choose to live that we are responsible for. And it is his favor, his grace that moves us beyond our nature and our nurture.

Fight the tendency to follow in your father’s or mother’s dirty footprints. Live differently! But also keep the door open to finding a new family path, by being the one who nurtures healing.

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Driving to work the other day, singing along to a worship song, words leapt out at me:

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children,
and their children

As the words settled in my mind, my grandmother came to mind.

A woman of faith, who lived a very real, intentional, consistent life. She worked hard, played hard and knew when and how to rest. She loved her family, would go to the ends of the earth for any one of us. She never allowed our poor behavior, immaturity or way we chose to live impact her unconditional love for us.

But … she did not leave this world under any illusion that all of her loved ones chose, or would choose to follow her God.

I am certain that her greatest hope would have been that her family walk with God … her children, and their children, and their children and their children …

We all have loved ones who have not accepted Christ as their redeemer, or ones who have chosen to walk away from the gift of grace … the favor that is offered. We all have ached for the peace that they do not even know is missing in their life. This desire for their lives is a good one, perhaps the best anyone can hope for another.

Yet, if we sing the words of this blessing we can feel as though our loved one, as though we have been overlooked by God, missing out on his favor, his grace for life, everlasting.

One thing that my grandmother taught me, that is still resonating in my mind and heart, is to trust God. Or, as Corrie Ten Boom said,

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God”

So, we trust God, who loves our loved ones even more than we do. And we hold on to his promises, knowing that though with man this is impossible, with him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”

Psalm 102:18

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Unknown Artist – Germany 1560s

I realized the problem … me.

It is something that had been gnawing at my for quite awhile. I couldn’t figure out why my advise wasn’t being taken … I mean, I do know things.

It wasn’t like this was the first of our three adult kids to ignore my sage advise, my words of wisdom. But … this time is was really contributing to my knickers being tied up in a knot.

Then it hit me … I am the problem …

It was a simple thing, a parental ‘letting go’ of control of an area of one of our kid’s lives. An appointment had to be made, so I said, here’s the number you need to call and make an appointment asap.

An hour later … call not made.

The next morning … call not made.

That afternoon … call still not made.

Three days late … notta!

The procrastination to make this simple appointment was getting under my skin.

“But, it’s not rocket science.”

“How hard is this?”

“It will take mere minutes.”

… all my thoughts in response to this … nothing.

Then it hit me … when I was that age, I hated to make telephone calls to doctors, dentists, hairstylists, businesses. I would avoid it at all costs. Actually, I still hate doing it … I don’t have good rationale for my avoidance, it’s just an area that I can procrastinate with natural flair. Except that, I have mostly overcome it, managed to accomplish such tasks with little procrastination.

So, I started to look at other areas of our (adult) kid’s lives that made me kinda crazy. The things that had me shaking my head most often were the areas that, at a younger stage of my own life, I struggled with. Whether it was getting enough sleep, spending/saving money, time management, or … making an appointment, it is the things I struggled with that I am less gracious or understanding about in my kid’s lives.

This realization had me thinking about the parable of the unforgiving debtor/servant (Matthew 18:21-35). A man had a debt he simply could not repay the king, so he begged for mercy … for time to repay it. The king not only let him go, but forgave his debt. The man then went, straight away, to find one who owed him money and he demanded it immediately. This indebted man also begged for mercy, for time, but he was thrown in jail. When the king heard this story he was aghast. So he had this man thrown into prison (after a good tongue lashing).

The Matthew Henry Commentary on this parable states:

“Though we live wholly on mercy and forgiveness, we are backward to forgive the offences of our brethren.”

Though this story deals with debts, which my own story does not, it also deals with learning about grace and mercy.

In my life, I have had to learn from my own successes and (maybe more-so) mistakes. I have had to pay the price (literally) for debts unpaid, for late nights, for poor time management, for not making an appointment. These experiences have helped me to learn and grow.

But, I cannot expect my kids, who are still in the early stages of learning and growing, to have mastered the same level of learning as I. They too need to learn from their experiences and that means making their own mistakes along the way as well.

They, like me, will learn best from their own successes and errors. I hope that I can view their struggles … the ones I have learned from … with eyes of grace and mercy.

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Forty-nine years ago my parents spoke their vows, exchanged rings and sealed them with a kiss. This happened after a short engagement, in an old stone church, surrounded by family and friends.

Forty-nine years of for better … or worse, richer … or poorer, health … or sickness. Forty-nine years of love, and arguments, and silence, and disagreements, and children, and inlaws, and bills, and holidays and memories … so many memories.

They married, but their marriage did not begin as two, for my two-year old self was there to keep them from focusing too much attention on the other. Fifteen months later their son followed and twenty-six months another son.

There were numerous dogs and cats and even a few fish (but NEVER anything from the rodent family … NEVER).

In forty-nine years there were only two homes, one built by my dad’s father, the other a new home in a neighborhood with other young families. One phone number … just one.

They raised us kids, just like they were raised. Fed us what they had been fed. Spoke words, rules and wisdom that they had been given. Disciplined us as they had been disciplined.

In their house there was always yarn, cheese and the daily newspaper. Hockey ruled the TV most evenings and closed eyes were no indication that it was okay to change the channel.

The vegetables were peas, beans or corn (or all three at once). Most meals were made in quantities that would last much of the week and appeared in casserole dishes.

Physical ailments could be fixed with Vicks Vapo Rub, Absorbine Jr. or Polysporin. Home improvements could be fixed with a nail, tape (copious amounts of tape) or wallpaper.

Christmas morning always started before the sun even imagined rising and has always included a green tree. Birthdays were never without a cake, candles, ice cream and a call to serenade the birthday girl or boy (woman or man) with Happy Birthday singing. Spring was not spring without pussy willows. Hot summer days were for potato salad (with peas). Hot summer nights would hold the possibility of a drive to Sussex or the village for ice cream. Soap operas were enjoyed by both partners (though one wasn’t as quick to admit this truth).

One spent too much money when out, the other spent too much time away at the ball field (for better or worse … so the vows say and is the reality of marriage between humans).

In recent years summer evenings were spent on the swing, looking back, looking forward.

But there are other memories. Ones a daughter or son do not remember. Ones of just the two, in their wandering through married life together. They are the spectacular memories of words said and life lived that only one other person on the planet shares. These memories of joys and even heartbreaks bring wordless smiles and tears.

Memories of a long marriage are sure to awaken us all to the brevity of life.

It is in looking back that the preceding years seem to have gone in a flash. These memories of marriage are what we hold on to. They are the gift and the offering wrapped up together … the offering in their original experience and a gift when looking back at life and love shared.

The Bible says that marriage is a mystery. Maybe the memories of a long marriage are the unravelling of the mystery, slowly reminding us how fortunate we are to have these mental souvenirs of the past.

And, even though health may fail, though life here may have an end, the memories live on in our minds, in our hearts and even in the generations that are woven into the marriage story.

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I have hit that stage, as a woman, that hubby and I used to refer to as PMW … the post menopausal woman … children have grown to adulthood, no grandchildren, but there is a twinkle in her eye when she sees a little one.

Don’t worry … I am not quite at the yearning for grandkids stage, but I am more aware of the reality of the saying

the days are long
but the years are short.

Lately there seem to be littles at every turn. Friends with newborns, children who stop to chat when I am outside, the cutie who comes to our church food bank, whose smile melts my heart.

With each turn I hear the words, the voices of women my current age (the PMWs),

“time goes so fast”
“just savour every minute”
“don’t rush them to grow up”
“you’ll miss this stage when they grow up”

The thing is, I was never a baby-person. Oh, I loved my littles with my whole, entire momma heart, but I had babies so as to get teenagers. So, when they were (finally) teens, making me the happiest momma around, I just didn’t relate when the PMWs would say,

“don’t you wish they were still little?”

and I would smile and say, “nope.”

Yesterday I was emptying a cabinet and rediscovered the framed images from my kids childhood. My heart ached a bit as I looked at their little faces, remembering small hands in mine, busy and demanding days, sweet bedtime snuggles, stories and prayers.

But my ache, the source of the lump in my throat … it wasn’t because I long to go back in time to their childhood, but because I hoped that I had savoured the moments I was in, the moments of their years as littles.

Then, as if the young, exhausted, pulled-in-every-direction momma I was back then, was standing behind me, whispering in my ear, I heard her youthful wisdom say,

“time still goes so fast”
“savour every moment with them as adults”
“don’t rush them to the next stage of adulthood”
“you may, one day, miss this stage they are in now”

And so, I am going to take the wisdom of younger me … not long for the future, not yearn for the past, but just enjoy the gift of today. I may not see or speak to them daily, but I can take every opportunity to listen actively, to encourage them, to take every chance to speak words and actions of love to their hearts. I can pound on the doors of heaven for them each day.

For, these days too can be long, but the years are also short.

“Look carefully then how you walk,
not as unwise but as wise, 
making the best use of the time …”

Ephesians 5:15-16

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This morning, someone I love will begin to emerge from a valley of shadows.

Chemo and radiation treatments come to an end. It is a day that signals the faint but growing light at the end of this dark tunnel … this valley.

Just three months after our dad died unexpectedly, the oldest of my two younger brothers was told that he may have cancer. A month later that possibility was confirmed. Another month later, treatments began. Now, nearly two months later, he will walk out of radiology, hopefully for good.

In the midst of all of that, he had to have all of his teeth removed (due to the radiation treatments). Covid 19 introduced the world to social distancing, eliminating the support of his partner at medical appointments, counselling and making it more challenging to get transportation to medical appointments. It also restricted the freedom to travel (how I would have loved, would love to be there to help his family).

It was a solitary valley of dark and menacing shadows.

The side effects of the ‘cure’ were dreadful for him … for them, for his family were also subjected to the effects of such powerful treatments. They had to endure his physical exhaustion, the emotional rollercoaster and vile sores in his mouth and throat that made even drinking water an agonizing torture. They have watched his body mass decrease by over 15%.

It is as though, the completion of his treatments are the first signal in over seven months that our hearts can begin to emerge from the valley of shadows.

I have heard many whispers of Psalm 23:4 :

“Even though I walk
through the darkest valley …”

Some versions say, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” …

Death is what one thinks of when we hear the word Cancer. It doesn’t matter our age, our situation in life, the type of cancer … we all know of someone who had cancer, who died, So, when we hear it as a diagnosis our minds rush to that scenario … contemplating what we will miss, who we will miss.

I am certain that for our entire family, who were still wandering in the shadow of our father’s death, for whom death still had a presence, a personality … his diagnosis caused fear to raise it’s ugly head.

What a season it has been for him, his partner, his kids, mom and all the rest of us who cheered him on from the sidelines. It has not been easy. As he said to me just yesterday, “it was a good cancer, because it is so treatable.” Yet, a good cancer makes me think of the impossibility of being kind-of pregnant … it’s still cancer. And this ride has been so rough and in this time of pandemic, it has been made even more challenging.

Yet, here he is … walking through this valley, taking in the poison that is his medicine, enduring agony to eliminate the pain. Utilizing every bit of strength to get through each day, while this valley takes everything out of him.

Congratulations, brother! You made it to the end of this leg of the valley. You’re not at the very end yet, and there will still be a bit more stumbling in the dark, but the light is shining in.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4

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He hasn’t been ‘daddy’ since I was quite young, but I will still always be a daddy’s girl.

He chose me … not really knowing who I would become, the choices I would make, or even if I would chose to love him back … that is father love that parallels the love offered to us all, through Christ, in our God.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1

God, the father to all, the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) will love us when there is an earthly absence of a father … of a good father. God is a father who loves with an unconditional love. He can fill the void that some feel on this day of celebration of the love of a father … the void of who we were because of a father’s love.

A few months ago I wrote of the grief of loss as not only that they are gone, but so is the part of you that was loved uniquely by them. It is the loss of a person, a relationship, a part of who you have always been … with them, in them, through their eyes.

I have always been his daughter … cared and sacrificed for, taught about life and living, chosen and loved as his own. It is hard to explain how it feels to have always known that you are so loved, to have been confident that there is no one and nothing that could ever change that love … not driving the car in the ditch, not even moving to the other side of the country.

Today I will feel it … the absence of it all … his presence, his voice, his acceptance, his unconditional, chosen love. The void leaves me aching with memories and missed opportunities.

Most of all, today I will miss who I was in his eyes, in his presence.

I was his daughter …

Though I am loved beautifully by my husband and kids, my mom and others who I hold dearly, today I remember, with thanks, the man who loved me enough to call me his own …

Today …

I ache for who I was in the eyes and heart of my dad …

every part of my life changed because of his love …

and every part of me is lonely for him, for my identity in and through him.

I am still just a dad’s girl and I miss him so.

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So, here in Canada, May 6-13 is Mental Health Week, Sunday, May 10 is Mother’s Day and, to top it all off, this weekend marks eight weeks of self isolation due to Covid 19.

A trifecta is three events that make for a perfect result … I am not so sure that this weekend is so perfect. As a matter of fact, I have been noticing moms lately, pondering how this self isolation might be affecting the mental health of moms, at the various stages of the mom life.

I have been thinking of the moms of littles. They are frequently out for a walk, pushing littles in strollers, carrying them on their backs or at their fronts, holding tiny hands. Their days begin as the sun is lightening the horizon and though their littles might go to bed in the early evening, their nights are frequently interrupted with feedings, changes, soothing and rocking. What a time this is for those moms, with days so full of activity and questions and physical care … with no relief from grandparents, aunties or babysitters. Some have the benefit of a partner with whom they can share the load, but then there are also those who are trying to balance caring for their children while still working, in the same house.

Then there are the moms of school aged kids, who are trying to manage the full house of social distancing, potentially working from home and now, being the tutor that they never signed up for (at least, not knowingly) … all while trying to keep up with the social pressures to learn how to make sour dough bread and Dalgona (whipped coffee). These moms have patience that are being tested and tried every waking hour (their kids outlasting them at days end). The only hope for these mommas, for a break, is to set their alarm for an early hour, before their kids awaken, so that they can pull their tattered brain cells back together, for another day of endless cooking, technology-managing, homework-overseeing, sibling-peace-keeping.

At the far end of the spectrum are the grandmas and great grands, sitting alone in their homes, their care facilities, the hospital. They might be feeling a very real sense of fear for their lives. A fear of their own, their kids and society as a whole as they are perhaps the most at risk of this disease being a threat to their very life. They were lonely before Covid forced us to keep our distance from them. Their days are filled with quiet, little social or physical interaction, time. They long for a visit, a call, a touch.

Then there is the empty nest stage mothering (the one I am currently 2/3 of the way into). Our kids are mostly independent, living their own lives. Our days are largely our own, or occupied by work in some form. We might long to visit our own mothers and grandmothers, to encourage them, help to pass the time, give them a hug. We might ache to help our own kids as they manage life at home with their newborns, their busy children, their socially-starved teens. Maybe we just long for the freedom and safety to embrace our kids again.

For all of these stages of mothering, this is tough time to mother. It is exacerbated when anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges are part of everyday life (for the mom, a child, or spouse/father). Mental health struggles have no boundaries due to gender, age or stage of life. Mental health issues are much like a virus during a pandemic … there is no one immune to it’s touch.

The combination of a special day, social isolation and mental struggles can be just too much for some moms, who are weary, lonely and/or dealing with their own, or their loved one’s mental health struggles.

Maybe what we need this Mother’s Day is understanding that mothering is hard right now. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t joys and delights, that the chests of mom’s aren’t swollen with love for their children, just that, for many moms, it is hard right now.

So, let’s love on our mom’s this day.

Maybe the real trifecta is faith, hope and love. A verse more commonly pulled out at weddings than Mother’s Day. But right now, those are what all mothers, all of us need more of.

May we all look to mothers, to ourselves with those three words. May we all look to God as we struggle through this time, as mothers and as children of them.

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