Winning the Living Lottery

This week I read on the local news a young 29 year old women was killed and her new 2 month old baby was rushed to hospital after a drunk driver crashed into her family’s car from behind.  They were driving on the same highway I drive several times a week at an hour I could have been driving my car.   Why her?

This week I read blog posts from a good friend who’s child has a cancer recurrence and will be fighting for her life once again.  Her posts are heartbreaking as she tells us of moments she is simply drinking in the essence of her daughter while she still have time with her.  Why her child?

These are just two stories of many, many stories I hear and read about.  Loved ones lost.  Loved ones sick.  Loved ones commit suicide.  Loved ones killed by tragic accidents.  Loved ones die when their health has failed them.

And I sit on my living room floor and I hug my children.  I embrace them and smell their hair and squeeze them and wish time could stop so nothing happens to any of them.  I breathe a sigh of relief when my husband walks in the door, not just because I have some reprieve from the kids, but because he is home safe.  He is safe.

It can be so overwhelmingly frightening knowing we can’t hold on forever.  We can’t keep our loved ones safe.  We don’t know when tragedy will strike us.  When will our time come?

Last Spring, I stopped writing my blog on a regular basis.  I was going through some health issues myself and I was scared something was wrong with me.  I couldn’t be open and honest on a blog when I was afraid I was ill.  Really ill.

It turns out I was perfectly fine.  Probably burned out and exhibiting signs of being overtired and over-stressed.  Our bodies react in very physical ways when they continue to experience stress without relief.  I don’t need to explain why I may have been experiencing prolonged stress with the busy household we have.

But thinking something was really wrong with me kept me awake at night.  How could a mother of five young children die and leave her kids without a mother?  I lost my mother when I was 29 and it crushed me.  I still miss her being in my life very much.  How would these young children feel?  They would be affected for life.

Fortunately, and by God’s grace and will for my life, I’m still here.  And I’m healthy.  I’m able to take care of my family each day with energy and love.

But why are some people taken?  This is not a new question.  It feels like we are playing a living lottery here.  Who’s going to be next?  When will  I again feel the anguish of losing a loved one?

I can only dig into what I know about being a child of God.  It comes from the Heidelberg Catechism.  Q & A 1.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A.

That I am not my own, 1

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death, 2

to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 3

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood, 4

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil. 5

He also preserves me in such a way 6

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head; 7

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation. 8

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life 9

and makes me heartily willing and ready

from now on to live for him. 10

He preserves me.  

I am not my own.

He has set me free.

From now on to live for him.

What I glean from this is there is no giving up hope.  There is no sitting around in fear, waiting for something bad to happen.

Life is about being heartily willing and ready to live for God. No matter the circumstances.  No matter the cost.

And it’s not a lottery.  Our lives are far from being a lottery.  There is no chance we exist apart from the will of our loving, heavenly Father.

Deaths will still occur.  We will lose loved ones.  But we will not grieve without the comfort of knowing our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, has set us free from the grip of fear and ultimately, the grip of death.

For this reason alone, I can live my life in confidence and enjoy the beautiful treasures I live with each day.

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…for the Journey is Too Much for You.

All too often lately I have been saying to myself, “this is too much.”  My plate is too full. Too many commitments.  Not enough time for the things I think are important.  I feel like an awkward juggler who hasn’t quite mastered keeping all the balls in the air yet.

This feeling is often confirmed when I get told by people, “I don’t know how you do it.”       I am told this by strangers who find out I have five children, or by the struggling mom who just had her second (or first) baby.  I am told this by the grandmother who is done raising her children and lacks the energy to take care of small children for extended periods.

I often find myself stumbling with a reply of some sort.  “I don’t either.”  I say.  Or, “well, I don’t have babies in the house anymore.” Sometimes I reply, “the kids play so nicely together.”  But this isn’t what I want to say.  Those replies are not the truth of what I know deep down.

I can “do” my job as wife, mother, committee member, daughter, sister, friend, care giver because God has given me the strength to do it.  He graciously provides me with what I need.

A passage we read at church on Sunday from 1 Kings 19 really stuck with me.  This is the story of Elijah as he was running for his life from Jezebel. On his journey, he was ready to give up.  He asked the Lord to take his life.  This is how the Lord answered him:


The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you. So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.


Ha!  The angel told him his journey was too much for him.  And it was.  He was about to travel for 40 days and 40 nights!  Without much food or drink!  And in knowledge of a death threat!  Of course asking God for a way out seemed like the better option.

But the Lord provided for him in his time of need.  He gave him physical food and water and allowed him to rest before the long journey.

I am amazed that God knows what we need and he provides it.  Sometimes, we simply forget to ask for help.

I feel too busy?  I’m feeling too stretched? Am I trying to do it all on my own strength? Or have I prayed to God in my despair and asked him to take it all away?

Sometimes we do need to take things away to make our lives more manageable.  But sometimes that can be an excuse to get out of doing really hard things.  Things that God has called us to do, but we really don’t have “time” for.

I’d like to be more discerning in the times where quitting is more attractive than staying. I’d like to call on God for his help and strength before I throw in the towel and say, “it’s too much!”

Of course it’s too much.  The journey is too much for us.

But when God comes along side us with fresh, warm bread and cool water and allows us to nap in the shade, we are given a renewed strength to continue the journey he has asked us to walk.

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Love is a Choice: Good Parenting is a Decision

When I got married to my husband 11 years ago, I knew all about the saying, “love is a choice.”  I realized that the “falling in love” kind of love didn’t last.  You know, the feeling of walking on clouds, not being able to concentrate on anything but your loved one, just wanting to be together every second of every day?  I had had enough education about love and marriage to know that that euphoria didn’t last for years and years into the marriage.  And it did settle down.  A few years in, I began to understand first hand that love and a healthy relationship in the marriage takes some work, patience and time, especially when the kids began to arrive. But this new kind of love in its place is so much better.  The love of 11 years and counting has a depth and a strength that new love can’t compete with.

But what I wasn’t prepared for or taught in marriage counseling is that good parenting is a decision.  I didn’t know that good parenting also took work, a lot of patience, an unbelievable amount of time investment and endurance.

I believe I started strong.  Seven years ago, I went into the world of parenting well rested and with several years of teaching experience.  I felt pretty confident in my ability to be a good mom.  I had good parents as role models.  I knew I had a natural ability in working with young children and I had seen my siblings raise their kids.  As a teacher, I had good classroom management skills and great relationships with my students which I knew could carry over into parenting.  I read a million books about babies.  I read about pregnancy, feeding, labour (believe it or not, I watched videos of women in labour to see what I could expect), the first year, etc.

I had a very strong start.  Jonathan and I felt so confident as parents, we had 3 babies in 3 years (ok, some of that had to do with getting the maximum benefit from maternity leaves).  Feeling ever so confident still, we decided to go for the 4th.  We didn’t want baby #4 to feel left behind, so we went ahead and got pregnant 15 months after the 3rd.  But to our astonishment, we were expecting babies #4 AND #5.  I remember telling the ultrasound technician as a slid off the table, “that’s a lot of kids.  I already have 3 little ones.”  A few minutes later, I sat in the van with my white knuckles gripping the steering wheel in shock.  I wasn’t sure I could drive home.  Was this van big enough anyway?

When the twins arrived, Jonathan and I went into absolute survival mode.  The goal of the day was to survive the day.  Feed the kids, feed ourselves, tend to basic needs, sleep when possible.

But, even with 5 kids in 4 3/4 years, I’ve tried to maintain our standard of parenting.  But lately I’ve been feeling my standard slip.  Seven years in, I’m getting tired.  I’m tired of being consistent.  I’m tired of repeating the same things over and over like reminding my children to use manners and say, “can I have some more milk, please?” and “thank you” when I give them something they’ve asked for.

I’m tired of the resistance.  The resistance I get when kids don’t want to do chores or put on their pajamas.  The complaining I hear when food is set in front of them they don’t like.  The whining over not being able to have more pop, more juice, more cookies, more candy, more screen time.  The battles over who had which toy first and who gets to have it and who has to give it up.  The settling of disputes over who doesn’t want to play superheroes and who gets to go first.

It is exhausting.  It is difficult to stay strong and not give in to the whining or get sucked into the complaining.

Two weeks ago, after feeling like quitting my mom job, I realized I can’t quit.  It isn’t an option.  And not only can I not quit, I need to keep doing a good job.  A very good job.

Being a good parent is what I want to be.  It is what God requires of me.  God has blessed us with 5 beautiful, healthy children.  Being lazy about parenting isn’t what God expects from me when he gave us his children to care for.  It reminds me of the passage from Luke 12:48b,


“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”


 

I want to have well-behaved, emotionally stable children who know right from wrong.  But more importantly, I want them to love God above all else, love others and to show respect to everyone around them.

The only way they will truly learn this is by my example (and by the grace of God).  I can’t quit because it’s hard.  I have to keep going and do what needs to be done each day.  I need to strive to do this parenting thing well even when it’s difficult and I feel like slipping away quietly to my dark room and throwing myself under the covers and pretending I can stay there a long time before hearing someone yell, “Mommy!  Where are you?!”

So when they call, I will throw back the covers, put my feet on the floor and answer, “I’m here!  I’m in my room!”  Because this is what they need.  They need me to be here.  They need my decision to be a good parent.

For love is a choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Christmas Hurts

This has been a difficult advent season for me.  Since the sudden passing of my uncle in November, I have felt the wave of grief wash over me again.

It will be five years ago on December 25th that my mom passed away suddenly of a heart attack.  It has been long enough now that I am used to life without her, but long enough that the absence of her is so painfully evident in my life.  I can’t pretend anymore that she is really here, but just on vacation for a while.

I can’t help but think about how old Janelle and Willem were, my two oldest children, when she died.  Before I went to see her in the hospital on December 23, 2010, I had shown her the most recent photographs of Willem at age 2, sitting on a potty, just beginning to train and Janelle at 7 months, grinning with her two little teeth.  Those two pictures hold a lot of meaning to me now.

The fact that she doesn’t know my other 3 children is astonishing.  I keep picturing a moment when she walks in the door and she sees how the kids have grown and I get to introduce her to the three grandchildren she has never met.  This moment will  never happen, but it is nice for me to imagine.

Living life without my mom is tough.  She was my cheerleader.  She was my go-to person for advice and Godly wisdom.  She knew when to push me and when to comfort me.

The longer I am a mom, the more I discover the key to her secret powers.  Growing up, I never understood how, in the middle of the night, she was already awake and at my bedside before I threw up.  I never could figure out how she knew something bad had happened to me at school.  But I get it now.  I can read my kids like a book.  Every facial expression is a clue to how they are feeling inside.  Every unusual sound or movement in the middle of the night alerts me to wake up.  Moms just know because they know their kids.

I miss my mom being that person to me.  But I am so thankful I can still feel her presence when I experience the same thing with my own kids. I’m so thankful I get to be a little bit like the mom she was to me to my own offspring.  Of course I’m not exactly like her, that wouldn’t exactly be healthy, but so much of who she was rubbed off on me and I get to pass it on.

I know Christmas can be hard for many people.  Even those who’s family member didn’t die on December 25th.  Christmas is a reminder that the loved one has missed yet another year of family life.  The grief never completely disappears, but the wave grows bigger and stronger during special occasions.

I encourage you to take time this Christmas season to tell a grieving friend you are thinking of them.  I so appreciate the notes I get from friends saying they are remembering my mom or thinking of me during this season.

Remember that no matter how much time has past, the loved one is always remembered and always missed.  The pain of the loss comes and goes, but the new normal never feels quite right.

The birth of Christ is the light we long for in this dark month.  We anticipate the coming of the Savior with urgency.  Our broken world is suffering:  millions of displaced people due to war, bombs in public places, shootings at innocent victims, severe storms that bring about disaster, mental illness that plagues the mind,  cancer that destroys a body, and the death of a loved one all display a world in pain.

The earth is groaning.  The labour pains are getting more intense.  The suffering is becoming unbearable.

This advent season, I pray for Jesus to come.  To bring us relief of the sadness we feel for the broken state we and our precious world is in.

I pray for the healing of hearts, bodies and minds.

And I pray that as we wait, we can shed light in the dark places.   To bring hope to someone this Christmas.  To share with others that not all is lost to brokenness.

I pray for peace.

Come, Lord Jesus.IMG_20151212_211240


Luke 1: 76-79 (Zechariah’s Song)

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

 

 

Great Expectations

Advent Starry Night 2

The season of Advent is upon us again and with Advent comes a season of reflection.

This year, I have been hearing reminders of how advent is a time to slow down and ponder the miracle surrounding the birth of Christ.    A time to be still enough to be aware of God’s work in us and in our world.  It is a time of waiting.  It is a time of great expectation.

Of course there are so many distractions to keep us from being anything but calm and still.

Since early November, the pressure to come up with wonderful gifts for my kids within the limited budget is always a bit of a stresser for me.  I am a gift giver.  I enjoy showering my kids with presents they will delight in.  It is a way for me to express my love for them.  The fact that I know them well enough to find something they will be thrilled about is something I take delight in as well.  But it is something on the list that needs to be done and I don’t have much free time without the kids to accomplish it.

Starting three week ago, planning family events and friend gatherings in and around everyone’s busy schedules has occupied a considerable amount of my time.  I already have the stuffed turkey in the freezer ready for the Christmas day dinner.  I’ve started planning a possible New Year’s party with friends.  The calendar is filling up with much anticipated quality time with friends and family.

This past week, the decorations went up at our house.  I have a rule that I wait until December 1st to put up decorations.  The Christmas music is played, the tree is decorated, the lights are strung and plugged in.

On Wednesday, I took out a book at the library full of holiday treat recipes.  Currently, I am in a state of great expectation for the glorious time in the kitchen I will have preparing delicious and visually stunning treats for the Christmas season.

I am getting ready.  Ready to celebrate the birth of Christ.

But am I really getting ready to celebrate the birth?  Or am I getting ready to entertain and impress?  I know my mind is often filled with how I can impress with fancy foods and pretty place settings.  I love to entertain and be hospitable (practicing hospitality is encouraged in the Bible!), but maybe my focus is getting a little off track.

Advent is a time to slow down and reflect.  But I don’t feel like my mind is slowing one bit.  In fact, it is racing a lot of time thinking about what needs to be done or planned next.

The distractions are real.  It is Satan’s way of leading us in the wrong direction.  To take our minds off of Christ’s miraculous birth and on meaningless things like toys and cookies.

It is ridiculous if you think about it.  I can sit and think about how to decorate, bake and shop for hours but forget to reflect on God’s love for me.

I challenge myself this advent season to be still.  To put away the cookbook, for now, and to wait in expectation for God’s promise to be fulfilled.  To look around me, and not at my calendar, in order to see him at work.

And when I catch a glimpse of him, I know I will feel peace in my heart.  My soul will sing in expectation of the coming of the Christ.

I will feel ready for the celebration.

 

 

 

 

The Fight Against Perfection

Until recently, I hadn’t realized my drive toward perfection  was really a problem for me.  perfection1I mean, I’m not what you call a classic perfectionist.  I’m not an oldest child, I did average in school and I often accept things as “good enough.”  Or so I thought.

After reading several articles on Facebook and in books on perfectionism and a recent Mom to Mom session  called “The Perils of Perfectionism: What Voices Shape Us?” at Coffee Break, I’ve come to realize I do have some issues with my own desire to be perfect.  And it isn’t having a positive effect on me or my family.

An interesting part of being a perfectionist that I hadn’t realized before, was laid out to me by Linda Anderson, the founder of the Mom to Mom program.  She said, “we choose our areas of perfectionism.  We may be very perfectionist in certain areas, much more laid back in others.”

There are some things I don’t seek perfection in.  One example is the organization of cupboards and drawers.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I don’t exactly keep things tidy behind a closed door.  To me, if I can get it into the cupboard and close the door (most of the time), it is good enough.  There will be another day I can organize it properly.  The problem is, I don’t usually get to that “another day.”

Another thing I’m pretty laid back about is germs and kids.  I don’t make my kids wash their hands before dinner, I don’t wipe their noses as often as I could (just this morning I had a stranger offering me kleenex for my kid) and if they eat something off the floor, oh well, it won’t really hurt them.

But I do strive for perfection in some other areas: the way I look, the way I parent, the behaviour of my children (as it is a reflection of my parenting, of course), the cleanliness of my home (of what you can see), my cooking and baking, the emotional state of my children, my relationship with my children, my relationship with my husband, the way I appear to others, my faith and relationship to God, and my contribution to my church and greater community.

The list is long.  These are the areas I can’t stop thinking about and striving to better at.  I read endless books on relationships and parenting and being a Christian who strives to put God first.  I read recipe books to become a better cook.  I stress about not being able to be in my community more by serving those in need.  I weigh the decision about how to be an active member in my church by choosing which ministry to serve in.

While I’m thinking about all these things, I’m trying to keep up with my household chores, trying to stay on top of laundry and dishes and cleaning floors.  But I’m also trying to spend each day reading to my kids and I worry I don’t spend enough “fun” time with them because I’m worried about the housework.  And between each of these worries, I glance in the mirror often at myself and see I’m not as slim and fit as I find acceptable.  My kids like to poke at my squishy tummy and I try to act like it is fun and ok.  But really, I need to stop eating cookies and hit the gym several times this week!

Eventually it all adds up.  It comes bubbling to the surface at some point and I feel I can’t take the pressure anymore.  I can’t actually achieve all I hope to achieve.

And where does the pressure come from?  Mostly from myself.  My internal dialogue is running wild with suggestions on how I could be better and I should be doing more.   But without even realizing it, outside pressures seeps in as well.  Every time I browse Facebook or Pinterest I see how others are doing it better than me.  The guilt buries itself deep whenever I see a family doing an outdoor activity we never seem to get around to doing.  Or I see someone’s newly renovated kitchen when I can’t even seem to get my dishes done.  The pressure builds.  Discontentment steals my joy.

Linda Anderson also said something in her video which hit home for me.   She explained, “the  price we pay for perfectionism is ruined relationships.  We drive others way by becoming self-focused.  We can’t see others as well.  We are never quite content, happy or satisfied.  The circle of perfect people is a small one.”

Huh.  In all my trying to be better for others, I’ve actually started focusing on myself way too much.  I’m seeing my failures and my short comings more than I see others.  I forget to look how I can serve my family because I’m too caught up in learning about myself.

I’m not against self improvement.  I don’t think it is wrong to try to be better and to read books about becoming a better person.  But too often my focus is wrong.  I become too hard on myself for not being who I could be.

But God says I am who he made me to be.  He loves me now and I don’t need to earn his love by doing.  In the Bible, he assures me:

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  (Psalm 139: 14).  ”

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

And finally,

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.[a]
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”  Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

Once again, God’s umbrella of grace stretches over me and calms my anxieties.  I am enough.

I know I’m not alone in this drive to be the perfect woman, wife or mother.  I believe all women put this pressure on themselves.  As proof, I’ve been reading it on several places on the Internet.  This reason inspired me to write this post.

Woman need to be told to slow down.  Relax.  Sit.  Live in the moment.  Be still.  Rest.  Enjoy.  Just be.

Let’s all encourage each other to work for “good enough” and not strive to be perfect.

Let’s live under the grace of God and be women who extend grace to ourselves and to others in our company.

Let’s live as children of the living God who sent his Son to save us.

Let’s live in freedom.


 

 

 

 

 

A Fairy tale Nightmare

There are many circumstances in my life that don’t go exactly how I imagined in my mind  they would go.  I am guilty of having a lot of romantic ideals on how certain situations will play out. But when it comes down to it, something often happens that will shatter all my hopes and dreams for that moment.

In  August, I began to look forward to the beginning of school.  The first day of school is always a special time when there is so much newness and excitement for a new beginning.

This year was no exception.  Our oldest was looking forward to going to Grade 2 and our daughter was thrilled about going to school for the first time.  On top of that, they were going to be riding the bus to school for the very first time.  I was also thrilled they were going on the bus as I didn’t have to load all the kids up twice a day to drop off/pick up.

porch shot

Mia photo bombed this shot. I really just wanted the two going to school.

I have to admit, I was very ready for school to begin.  I began shopping early.  With little opportunity to make frequent shopping trips in the weeks before school, I started preparing early with little things here and there:  a few pair of shoes on one trip, a backpack was purchased in July, and a soft blanket was spotted for SK way back in April.

When the big day arrived, after much preparation on my part,  we snapped some pictures on the porch and I marched all the kids down to the bus stop 5 minutes before the scheduled time.  We were prepared.  We were excited.   Ethan happened to cry the entire way down the sidewalk, but I dragged him along and we were excited so it didn’t matter.

bus stop gang

Things not going as well as I had hope. You can see Ethan coming to me upset.

Then the waiting began.  We waited and waited and no bus came.  I was getting concerned, so I took out my phone to see if I had any emails.  Nothing.  I texted a friend who also had her children on the bus.  No response.  I just was beginning to think I might have to drive the kids to school myself (!) when Ethan first threw up on the sidewalk behind me.

And there you have it.  My dreams of the perfect first day of school send-off came crashing down.  What was I to do?  I couldn’t take him back to the house.  I had nothing to clean him up or wipe his face with.  All I could do was encourage him to move onto the grass so he wouldn’t mess up the sidewalk.

Eventually the bus came.  It was late, but the route was new and the kinks would be worked out eventually.

Ethan also survived the bus waiting experience.  He was sick several times, but we got through it.  It wasn’t as I had imagined, but it really wasn’t the end of the world either.

I wonder how many times we go through life having an ideal set in our minds and when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected it to, we feel slightly crushed and extremely confused and frustrated.

We often forget we are not in control.  As I was not in control of Ethan’s health at that moment at the bus stop, we are not in control of the many circumstances in our own lives.  Our ways are not God’s ways.  He often steers us in directions we are not interested in going.  Our moment where all things come together may never come.

Months before my mom died, she had planned a big camping trip for our family to celebrate her and my dad’s milestone birthdays that year.  She had planned in her mind a wonderful gathering of all her kids and grandkids, but she never made it there.  We did all go as a family, but it wasn’t a weekend we wanted to celebrate as it was the first time she wasn’t there with us.

Life doesn’t come with a map and it doesn’t come with a fairy  tale ending.  It often doesn’t go the way we planned.  But the best news of all is that God has a plan and he knows the outcome.  He has a job for us to do to carry out his work of salvation.

If only we turned to him more often for direction, we would forget about our own way and come to trust how perfect his plan really is.


For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

Standing the Test of Time

One of my favourite things about living in my area is going for country drives.  Just outside our city limits, we find many Mennonite farms along the main highway.  I just love to gaze out the window and observe the Mennonite families as we speed by.  Until recently, I was unsure what drew me like a magnet to catch a glimpse of a life quite unlike my own.

As a young adult, I remember seeing horses and buggy’s galloping on the side of the road and being told these people live without electricity and modern technology.  I thought this was crazy.  Why would anyone want to live this way?  What was wrong with advancement and change?

Now, as an adult with a family of my own, I am seeing things differently.  I have to come to admire their way of life.  Here are some of things I have observed and come to appreciate from watching these Mennonite families from my passing vehicle :

Organization:

  • Mennonite farms are neat and tidy.  There is no leftover machines laying around, no garbage or junk strewn across the lawn.  Yes, there are children’s toys in a fenced area, but nothing looks out of place or messy.
  • Women hang laundry in an orderly fashion.  All the sheets and towels are hung according to size from largest to smallest.  Men’s pants are hung from adult size to child size.  Even colours are organized together.  There is a method and they all stick to it.  No haphazard hanging of laundry here.
  • Mennonite women’s gardens are to die for.  They have endless rows of vegetables and flowers.  No weeds, just straight rows of produce and blooming, colourful gladiolus and mums.

Community

  • Every Sunday, Mennonite families attend church and then they visit each other.  You will see groups of men and women congregating together on the lawn.  The men hang out together or play baseball and the woman socialize.  markham-mennonite-baseballThe groups don’t seem to mix.
  • I haven’t observed this much, but I’m guessing they help each other with farm work and garden work.  Together they harvest crops and can vegetables.
  • All Mennonite farms use the same colour paint.  It is the same green on most farms.  The houses are green, the barns are green and sometimes the fence is green.  I’m not sure why this colour has been chosen, but it seems like it is the only colour that is okay to use.
  • There is a standard way to dress.  Women wear dresses and head coverings and men wear dark trousers with suspenders and a light shirt.  The children wear smaller versions of the adult costume.

Based on these two things, organization and community, I have drawn some conclusions.  The way of life for these Mennonite families haven’t changed much over the years and there is a specific way to do things.  It seems like life is already laid out to be done in a specific way.  I can see why some choose to leave this community if they feel restricted from making their own choices.

But in our modern world, I think we can learn a few things from the Mennonite way of life.  I think they have it right when it comes to community living.  I often feel the separation I have with my own family.  Because most of us live physically farther apart, we are not in each other’s daily lives very much.  We miss so much of the wisdom and guidance older generations can pass on to their younger family members when we don’t live close together.

I also know that many moms who stay at home feel lonely and isolated.  There can be contentment being home of course, but it is a lonely job and it takes effort to commune with other women (and sometimes we are just too tired!)  Most of us have lost the connection to our neighbours and we can’t just pop in to visit someone without an appointment (we have to clean up the house first!)  It is rare that we invite our sisters and friends over to can or put meals in the freezer.

I appreciate the way their life is mapped out for them.  Life is predictable and many matters are non-negotiable.  Sometimes I feel like I’m running around like a crazy person because I have so much to do but I’m not quite sure what I should do first.  I know I have many gifts and talents to offer, but I’m not sure where I should use them.  I wish I had a clear map as to where I should be spending my time and where I need to be.  With so many options, sometimes I choose nothing for lack of knowing which option to choose.

One of our modern sicknesses is the misuse of time.  Either we feel so busy because we are over-scheduled or we waste so much time doing useless things like browsing the Internet for nothing.  I think we can learn from the Mennonite way of life where nothing is wasted and there is a purpose in everything.  They don’t have modern technology to distract them from their work and their family.  They do what needs to be done and they do it together.

One last observance, is the children on Mennonite farms play.  There is always a fenced area where children can play safely while the parents work.  I’m not sure how often or even if the parents stop to play with the kids, but the children are often outside playing.

One struggle I have as a mom is how much time I should spend with my kids playing with them.  I have  a lot of work to do to maintain our home and keep our family clothed and fed, so play time with them seems like a bother and something I don’t have time for.

I do know however, it is important to spend one on one time with each child.  I do stop occasionally when there is a request to read a story or do a puzzle or play a game.  But it is not frequent.  I have a lot to do and I think it is important for the kids to occupy themselves.  This free play time allows them to get creative and use their imaginations.  But how many times can or should I say “no, mommy is too busy” to a request for one-on-one time.  Some would say, “they grow up so fast, spend lots of time with them!”  But who is going to do the laundry and the dishes then?

I think there is also so much value in children watching their parents work and they can work along side them.  Janelle loves to help me out by hanging laundry and setting the table.  All the kids love to come up to the counter and help with the cooking.  Mommy likes it a lot less, but I know there is value in teaching them how to find their way around a kitchen.  And one day they may surprise me by making something all by themselves.

I don’t have clear answers for everything, but watching another way of life very different from mine can be a way to see what’s flawed in my own.  Dismissing someone’s way because it is different doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other.

What I like most is that Mennonite families are Christians.  Christians are supposed to be a light and although I don’t talk to them, I can see the way they live and it is good.  They work very hard, they go to church and take time for Sabbath rest (no sales on Sunday!) and they live and work with their families.  They don’t have iPhones or HE washing machines but they do have their faith in God,  their community and a way of life that has stood the test of time.

Technology and modern conveniences have little value against what God says is most important,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

https://waterlooinsider.wordpress.com/category/mennonites/page/3/

Holding on with Slippery Fingers

This past week a family in our Christian community lost their 13-year-old son.  He collapsed while playing soccer and was not able to be revived.  In a shocking and tragic situation like this, many of us parents feel a jolt of reality that death is not reserved only for the elderly or for another distant family who we are loosely connected to.  Tragedy can strike anywhere and anyone.  We think, this could have been my kid.

A few months ago, a close friend of mine witnessed a fatal accident of a 16-year-old boy by the corner near her house.  She found herself very shaken after this event as her own boys were just heading out on their bicycles for a ride down the road, exactly where this young man was struck while riding his motorcycle.  This could have been her boy.

Last year a family in our church went through cancer treatments with their 8 year-old daughter.  Upon hearing the diagnosis, we were shocked.  This could have been my kid.  Fortunately, by the grace of God, I was able to serve this young girl a s’more this weekend on our church camping trip.  It feels even more special to have her with us when we could have lost her to cancer.

Tragic  events like these cause everything to come to a screeching halt as we process the loss of such young lives without any warning.  It causes us to pause and appreciate the lives of our children and close loved ones.

But it also is an opportunity for fear to settle in.  I find myself feeling more afraid of the thing I fear most of all: losing one of my children.  I fear the kind of pain that won’t be easily comforted.  I fear the kind of family that would no longer feel complete.  I fear the agony of missing my child and never watching them grow up to become men and women.

This fear causes me to want to hold on tighter.  But I’m not exactly sure what to hold on to.  I shouldn’t squeeze the children tighter, that seems ridiculous.  It doesn’t make sense to prevent them from going to school or playing at the park or going into our vehicle for a ride to the store.  I can’t save them from cancer and I can’t keep them from living their lives normally in case a freak accident happens or they do something reckless.  I can’t hold on tighter.

I can make sure their seat belts are on properly but I can’t save them in a tragic accident.  I can give them healthy food to eat, but I can’t predict when they will choke on it.  I can’t even always prevent them from having that fall that knocks out a tooth or scrapes up their knee.

I can’t hold on to them forever and I can’t protect them from all harm.  In fact, that isn’t my job at all.  Our children belong to God and he is in control of their lives.  He holds them in the palm of his hand, not me.

This is humbling, because I feel like, as the mom, this should be my job.  God has given me such an incredible responsibility, along with my husband, to raise our children.  To teach them what they need to know, to care for them and to comfort them and guide them in the knowledge of the Lord.

But I can’t save them.

I can only pray to my heavenly father for his grace and protection.  I can pray that they continue in their faith and love of Jesus so he will gather them in his arms when they enter heaven.

The knowledge of God’s love for my children, that it is even greater than mine, gives me comfort.  He is their father and he has a plan for their lives.  I can trust in God’s promise.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

This knowledge also allows me to refocus my love and trust on God and my relationship with him.  When I fear losing my family so much, I realize I’m loving them more than I love God.  I’m putting them in a place they were not meant to be.

They are not my all.  God is my all.  They are not my only treasure.  God is my treasure.  He is the constant.  He will never leave me.

He is the only one I can hold on to.

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Finding Joy in the Mess

Upon exiting the library yesterday morning with 4 kids in tow, I almost did a leap of joy in celebration of an uneventful trip.  This was my second trip to the library where I felt it was a “normal” experience.  It involved browsing the aisles while the kids played in the children’s area.  I’m not always in sight, but the twins now know I’m not far away and they have settled into the routine of going to the library to pick out books, movies, CD’s, and toys.  Sigh.  Finally.

To inflate my sense of success even more, a lovely woman commented as we exited about the lovely crew I had.  It is nice to feel the admiration of strangers. All this basking in our success came to a screeching halt on our walk back to the van when Ethan says, “Mommy, there’s puke coming out of my bum.” Oh my.  There it was.  Diarrhea dripping down the left leg.

Okay. Back into stress mode.  First step was to find a baby wipe to clean off his leg and assess the situation.  He assured me he didn’t need to go to the toilet, so instead of going back inside to the washroom ( I didn’t really want to meet that nice lady again), I decided to clean him up with new underwear and pants in the van. These are the times where my van assumes its role as “place of refuge.” “Alright, kids, ” I hear myself say, “let’s just get back to the van and everything will be ok!” (For those of my friends sitting on the fence about a van, think about the diaper changes and clothing changes you can do when these situations arise!)

Meanwhile, Cor has eyed the crackers in the diaper bag he wasn’t allowed to finish in the library because it was time to go.  He decides to throw a hissy fit because I zipped up the diaper bag, keeping him out of reach of the desired snack.  So, Ethan has to wait in the dirty pants while I deal with Cor’s outburst of anger.  I did end up giving him the crackers.  We just needed to get to the van without causing anymore attention to ourselves.

So, crisis was resolved in the van with clean pants and cracker snacks.  Another job well done by this mama.  Stress was elevated, but not over-the-top this time. I did have to laugh at myself.

Who am I kidding?  Drama will follow me wherever I go for a long, long time.


Recently,  some of my new mom friends and I were swapping book recommendations on breastfeeding and sleeping and parenting.  I was able to give some suggestions on the books I read before the birth of all my kids, but I find myself reading less and less about babies and more about different kinds of issues.

Lately, I’ve taken books out on discipline, emotional health, and a play-based approach to stress and anxiety in children.  I feel like I should be awarded a psychology degree with all the reading and practicum I will have completed after the raising of these kids. I’m realizing that the issues get bigger as the kids get bigger.  It begins with feeding and pooping and sleeping.  When we’ve tackled those BIG issues, we move on to harder ones: bullying, anxiety, self-worth, faith and academic success.  My situations in public involving poop are relatively insignificant in terms of problems that can happen in the life of a child.

I do admit, I’m a book reader.  If I have questions about a topic that interests me, I find a book about it.  I try my best to put the advice of doctors and counselors I resonate with into action, but more often than not, I feel like I’m failing my kids because I can’t quite remember all the steps.  And, more often than not, I let my own emotions take over any logical and sensible advice I’ve received from the professionals.  All too often my frustrations and weaknesses and feelings of inadequacy take over and the principles from the book go out the window.

This week I found myself crying in the kitchen while the kids were having quiet time.  I was feeling overwhelmed because I wasn’t feeling well and the kids weren’t feeling well.  The house was a disaster.  Again.  I just tidied the day before, vacuumed floors, mopped the kitchen floor and as I looked around, the evidence of all that was gone.  Long gone.  I wondered how a person was to stay sane when their surroundings were in utter chaos all the time.  Often in these moments, I remember the advice I got from my aunt Wilma after my first baby shower.  She said, “and don’t worry about the house.”

I try very, very hard not to worry about it.  But I do worry about it.  All the time.  There’s never enough time or energy to keep it the way I think is decent, even for a family of 7.   I know I have 5 kids, but I don’t like living in a mess.  Yes, I do get everyone to pitch in and clean up the mess, but we are living with 2 toddlers who leave a path of destruction wherever they go.  They get into everything: toothbrushes, flossing picks, combs, hair elastics, CD’s, Tupperware, all toys of all kinds, puzzles, laundry, clean diapers, clean clothes from drawers, books, etc.P1120685 So, as I’m sitting in the kitchen feeling miserable, I stumbled across a blog that makes me break down and cry.  Her blog is called Finding Joy and her post is: 10 Things Happy Moms Don’t Do. The part that hit me like a ton bricks was this:

4. Base success on the state of the home. So tough, really, but true. When you have kids in your home your home will probably look like you have kids living in your home. You can have it spotless at 8am only to look like you never clean ever by 8:15am. Kids do that. Do what you can. Keep it clean. But, you know, kids like to dump stuff out, mix paints, color on things, and create things. And that? That means a mess often. Your success isn’t based on the throw pillows always on the couch, nor is your happiness.

I feel I was basing my success on the state of my home. I think I was raised that way.  Clean home equals successful wife and mother.  I struggle with letting things go a bit so I can spend more moments enjoying the kids instead of cleaning up after them.  I wish I could sit in a messy house with the kids around and I am perfectly happy. I know I can’t let everything go, or it would be really bad around here.  But I do need to be more patient in the messy moments.  Because as my husband reminds me, I will get it cleaned up eventually.

There will be moments of mess. Whether it is puke, poop, toys or toothbrushes.  I’m pretty good at dealing with the immediate crisis of body fluids in public, but not so good at the mess of life behind closed doors.  I’m working on that.

Life is a work in progress.  I won’t get everything perfect. I can’t find all the answers in a book.   And I should stop counting on perfect trips to the library. Most importantly, I’m being reminded daily I can’t do this mom job on my own strength.  Sometimes a crack in my “I’ve got it all together” is a healthy reminder that I don’t have it all together.  Not without God’s hand in my life.

For God’s hand is what gives me strength when I need it most and God’s word comforts me when I struggle to feel at peace in the midst of my mess.

 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9