Monday, November 11, 2013

Trying to remember

Today is a day of Remembrance so I am trying to remember...

I remember the history books that tell me that war has been a part of the human race for longer than the written word existed and that once words were written, they were often written by the victors.

I imagine, because I can't remember memories I have never shared, what it must have been like for my Grandfathers to march off to war, marching away from their families, marching alongside those who would not march back with them. Following orders in battle against other men following orders.

I remember all my uncles and cousins who bravely followed those footsteps to keep safe the freedom of their country and loved ones. I am grateful for the good fortune that sees them safe today.

I remember the countless men and women who came back and yet never came back. Whose hearts were far more broken than their bones and bodies. The warriors who came back and never stopped battling the shadows of the wars they brought home with them.

I remember the men, women and children in our very own free country who, because of their origin, were removed from their homes and placed in camps out of fear they might become traitors.

I remember the parents and spouses and children who gave their loved ones, in this country and the countries of our enemies and I imagine it is not always so black and white for them. Or maybe it is, maybe it is even more so. I remember that I can not possibly begin to understand, so I will keep remembering to remember.

I remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the decision he made to conspire to assassinate a tyrant. He was unsure if his soul could be pardoned for murder, yet saw no other way to prevent thousands from dying. I remember that he was willing to live, willing to die, and finally, wrestling with his own faith and nature, he was willing to kill for what was right.

I remember Cambodia. I pray, in tears, for the country filled with children who have become the collateral damage of wars fought by other countries. For children who have become nothing more than a commodity to the wealthy pedofiles in free nations. I remember these children and cling to the hope that peace is possible. That the whole world will realize that the price of war is too high.

I remember that just because we are safe in our beds every night night, victors who have won our freedom, does not always mean we are the heroes. I remember this and pray for the wisdom and discernment of our leaders who have such a huge weight of responsibility. Those who decide when bombs are dropped and men are sacrificed and violence is necessary. I do not always agree with their decisions, in fact I often don't, but I respect their willingness to bear such a great burden.

I remember the radical peace-seekers who are teachers and missionaries and doctors and travellers doing their very best to find another way, to be creative, to look for glimmers of hope in hopeless situations. Giving their time, financial security, energy, sometimes their sanity, health and even their lives to mend the the unbearable brokenness found in the world. I remember those who don't just talk or type about peace, but lose themselves in search of it.

I remember that while we have the freedom to have our little Facebook arguments about whether or not TOMS is really helping people, while we complain about the new iPhone update, while we protest whether the poppies we wear should be red or white, while we whine about the cold or the heat or the snow or the rain or prices of gas, wars rage on. Many over the price of gas we complain about. I remember that our brothers and sisters are still being wounded and killed over causes they may or may not agree with. I remember that bombs are being dropped on human beings who may or may not have committed a crime. I remember that children are taking up arms against children because they are hungry and cold and someone with guns and an agenda has offered them food and shelter.

And then I remember, even if just for a moment, to stop complaining because I really have no idea how good I have it.

And then, after all that, I just try to remember, the best I can, to honour the intentions and heartfelt sacrifices of anyone, across this whole planet, who has laid down their life for the sake of others.

My heart heavy and my mind just a little confused of what my role is in all this mess, I finally remember this promise; "....and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Speaking of the kindness cure.....

This was floating around my Facebook page yesterday. It may or may not be true, I didn't research it. I reposted because I think it's beautiful.

"When a woman of the Ubuntu African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes to the jungle with other women, and together they pray and meditate until you get to "The song of the child." When a child is born, the community gets together and they sing the child's song. When the child begins his education, people get together and he sings his song. When they become an adult, they get together again and sing it. When it comes to their wedding, the person hears his song. Finally, when their soul is going from this world, family and friends are approaching and, like his birth, sing his song to accompany him in the "journey".

In the Ubuntu tribe, there is another occasion when men sing the song. If at some point the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, they take him to the center of town and the people of the community form a circle around him. Then they sing "the song." The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment, but is the love and memory of his true identity. When we recognize our own song, we have no desire or need to hurt anyone.

Your friends know "your song". And sing when you forget it. Those who love you can not be fooled by mistakes you have committed, or dark images you show to others. They remember your beauty as you feel ugly, your total when you're broke, your innocence when you feel guilty and your purpose when you're confused."

I love the bit about reminding a person of their identity. It really made me think of the people I have worked with who have a criminal record or struggle with addictions. They are constantly reminded of their poor choices and even encouraged and required to identify themselves by their past. I wonder how our justice system could change and incorporate the idea of reminding, especially young offenders, of their identity outside of their mistakes. We could even keep this idea in mind when dealing with kids.

When Levi was in grade 4, he made an unfortunate decision at lunch time. I got a call from the vice-principal to tell me that he pushed a girl down amidst a group of boys. I was shocked, hurt and angry that Levi would even do something like that. When he was three, he was pretending to be a puppy at playgroup and accidentally bit another kid's finger. When he realized what had happened, Levi cried harder than the other little boy. How could my compassionate boy deliberately cause harm to a little girl?!

I drove to pick him up and on the way I prayed. I had no idea how to handle this, it was such a foreign issue. I thought I had done enough preventative parenting for this sort of thing. I asked God to grant me wisdom that day.

When I arrived, my son's face was a mix of defiance and disappointment. He got into the van and we drove in heavy silence as I continued to pray. "Levi, why did you do that today?" "The boys told me too. I want to be their friend." Ah. I understand that motivation. "Levi, all your life there will be opportunities to be a hero or a villain. What did you choose today?" "Villain" was his teary reply. "And, Levi, who are you really?" "I want to be a hero, Mom." "I know, Levi."

The conversation became about why Levi is such a great kid. He had so many people who loved and respected him so much at such a young age. Why would he change that for the respect of a few kids that would never really care about who he really was?

I did not discipline Levi in any way that day. There was absolutely no need. He, of his own accord, wrote that little girl an apology letter. We "sang his song" together that day in the van and it was very effective.

Other than my one story of Levi, I have no scientific studies to prove the value of this idea. That being said, I wonder how many other people in my life would benefit from hearing "their song" when they have failed, hurt someone, or even me. It is something worth contemplating as we brush shoulders and bump into each other. It is an attitude worth cultivating in a world filled with justification, entitlement and the rights of self.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Here's to all the Mama's!

Here's to the Mama's. All the Mama's...

Here's to the women whose wombs never grew round and full with babies, either by choice or circumstance, who still choose to kiss boo-boo's, wipe bottoms, hold hands and dry tears.

Here's to my single, childless friend, who is a mother to many children in Africa, standing guard for them against apathy and demanding better of the rest of the world.

Here's to my friend who already had four of her own and adopted one more because she had more room in her house and in her heart.

Here's to the too many friends who are raising their kids on their own without the partnership of the other parent. They are so brave and so enduring.

Here's to my friend who has seen two of her sweet sweet babies leave this world so soon after they arrived and still managed keep her faith and her gentle spirit.

Here's to the foster moms we have met that love other people's children so well and so completely only to let them go. They choose to repeatedly allow their hearts to be broken in hopes of protecting the little hearts of many.

Here's to the lady in the parking lot of Save-On who threw a snowball at me just because. I don't know her and can't even remember what she looked like, but boy that was fun!

Here's to every neighbour, teacher, friend or stranger who encouraged or taught me. Who didn't give up on me when I was a cheeky kid, restless pot-head or pregnant teenager.

Here's to my husband's mother who raised the most honest, gentle and wise man I know. She taught him to be faithful in everything and to celebrate his uniqueness. He has passed both along to my children.

Here's to my Mama. She is tough as nails on the outside and soft as kittens on the inside. She loves deeply and fiercely and she taught me to do the same.

Here's to me. I started the mama thing a little (OK a lot) earlier than most, but my kids seem to be doing alright in spite of my inexperience.

Here's to all the Mamas. All of us who nurture the shy ones, redirect the willful ones, and taught the weird ones to relish their weirdness. All of us who cheer for sports we never liked watching. All of us who pray desperate prayers in the dark clinging to threads of hope. To all of us who fail, who succeed, who give up, who try again, who just hang in there.

Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Speaking of kindness......

About three and a half years ago, Alex and I were at a Lifelinks conference in Medicine Hat when the weirdest thing came out of his mouth. "I think we need to plant a church." My response was quick and not well thought out. "You're on crack."

Just for clarity sake, I will state here for the record, that Alex wasn't, nor has ever been on crack. I have been informed that my less than well thought out remarks may have been the cause of certain rumours. Moving on....

My response came largely from the fact that we were seven years in to a church plant in Cranbrook. We weren't the visionaries, but we had been there from the beginning and participated in hashing out the first mission statement. We looked for places to rent, hauled concrete, painted walls, and served in every possible ministry over the course of those seven years. After all those years of sweaty tears and hard work, it was getting really good.  Why leave only to go back to the beginning again? Seriously. Why?

Well, Alex, being the gracious man he is, would occasionally try to start up the conversation but didn't press the issue when I walked away, or closed doors on him, or stared blankly back at him as though I didn't speak English. He waited.

About six months later, around this time of year actually, I was woken up around 2:30 in the morning by a very vivid dream. I was surrounded by kids and their parents, gardening and building fences. It was sunny and warm, our faces and hands were dirty and we were content. Somehow I knew this dream took place in Kelowna, though I had never been there. That I remembered anyway. As I woke up, I realized Alex was wide awake next to me. "If I was to agree to plant somewhere with you, where would we go." At the time his answer was frightening to me. "Kamloops or Kelowna" I did not answer.  I did not immediately tell him about my dream. I simply rolled over and went back to sleep.

Fast forward a few years, a few life lessons, a few mental, emotional, and spiritual growth spurts and we finally moved to Kelowna. We began in March to meet with a group of people wanting to explore the idea of a missional faith community together. It's been good. It's been a stretch. It's been an adventure. Today it began to be a fulfillment of a dream.

Today LRC (Love Revolution Communities) descended on our sketchy fourplex, weeded, mowed, planted, cleaned and built garden boxes for the families who live here. Children dug in the dirt, played with bubbles, and coloured the cement all around the house with sidewalk chalk. Long after we leave here, LRC will have left an impression.

Now here we are, sitting at our kitchen table with a visiting friend and I am reflecting on the day. God is so incredibly, richly good to us. We are surrounded by beautiful people with enormous hearts and kind spirits. Sometimes I miss my childhood home and my heart sits aches a bit in my chest as I go about my life here. Not today though. Today my heart is full, content and satisfied to see this journey through.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The cure of Kindness ~ 6

It works for everyone

It's not a secret. I love Jesus wholeheartedly and try live my life, as integrally as I can, in light of that. That being said, sometimes Christians really bug me. We occasionally claim something as being entirely our domain when it does belong to and function for everyone. Take kindness, for instance.

My kindness story.

As disclaimer before I begin. I loved my parents dearly. For all of their faults, they were good people, Sick perhaps but not evil.

I am a child of Alcohol and Abuse and Neglect. My father was a violent alcoholic, my mother was depressed and played a victim role very well. My parent's parent's before them for generations I am sure, created a normalcy of violence and abuse. It was just the way it was.

I was tiny and most likely dirty too, my hair was unkept and my teeth were unbrushed. My clothes did not fit and were often unmended. I probably did not smell so good. I was bullied at school. I was the flea bag (remember the flea bag? We all do, even if we don't want to admit it.) My life was a living Hell but seriously I didn't know any different.

My Oldest brother died of Alcoholism. My next older brother is on his way there too. By all accounts and statistically I should be in the same boat. I am not. I lead a rich and full life, have a great career and a wonderful family.

Mrs F., the lady down the street, took me under her wing and as a result I got to see how a functioning family worked. She was/is a kind woman. I was able to be at her house as much as I wanted to be. I had chores, and by watching the respect that the people in her family showed each other I was able to copy that behaviour. Her firmness and discipline came out of a place of deep kindness and respect.
We moved away from Mrs F. when I was 10. I watched as my sister and my parents fought and she moved in with her abusive boyfriend, who she would later marry and who would eventually make her life unbearably miserable.

I Isolated myself in my own little world and through school met a few friends, One in particular who was brave enough to tell me that I needed to brush my teeth and wash my hair. She literally showed me how to find clothes that would fit, how to run the washer and dryer. My circle of friends grew and they forced me to learn how to order at MacDonald's, which doesn't sound like that big a deal unless you are so afraid all of the time that you cannot function. My friends did this out of kindness. My friends were kind. I don't know how I would have made it through adolescence without them.

Then there were the teachers who made a difference in my life.

Mr G. my music teacher who once again with firmness and respect demanded the best from me. He had faith in me and in my talent, made me believe, truly believe that I was talented and smart. With a firmness based in kindness He told me to “suit up and show up, keep at it, your dreams are worth it and you are worthy.” His kindness no less than saved my life.

Mrs. G. my grade 10 social studies teacher who looked the bullies in the eye and told them 'enough' I was safe in her classroom and excelled academically for the first time in my life.

Mr. W. whose class I showed up to because the above mentioned teachers made me feel I could do anything I wanted to do. When I darkened the door of his A stream English class – which was WAY over my head - he made me feel welcome. Never once belittled me for my lack of grammar and inability to put a sentence together let alone spell. He talked to me privately and lent me basic english text books to use on my own time. He DID make my C+ at the end of term feel like the Order of
Canada! He allowed me to do homework for other classes while our class was having discussions (ADD does have an upside) so I didn't have to fall behind because goodness knows the course load in his class was something that I was surely not used to.

There is the kindness from two of my friends, L. and M. whom I recruited to join me in this English class so that I would not be alone. We discovered the English Language together, the three of us, with Mr. W.'s help

The kindness of my Husband. Ahhh, the kindness of my husband. I remember being with his bickering family for the first time and being so afraid and he put his hand on my back and whispered in my ear “Nobody is going to hit anybody” Those were the most magnificent words I had ever heard.
The kindness of people changed the course of my life! The odds say I should not be where I am today. I would not be here if it had not been through the kindness of others. I try to pass this kindness on in the work that I do and in my every day dealings.

Yes the world is full of evil, we can choose to dwell on that and throw our arms up in the air and say 'whatever' but I choose not to. I choose to be kind.

And by the way, for information's sake, I am an atheist just in case anyone was wondering.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Cure of Kindness ~ 5

   Taking the cure seriously

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." There is a reason that the greatest is love. Love heals. It challenges. It hopes. It believes. It inspires. It builds. It creates. It never fails. I know, I know, that's so idealistic. If it irks you, to bad, that's where I live. :) Today's is a story of why love is the greatest.

  As a probation officer - I see a lot of negativity on a regular basis. I know many in the same job are jaded and do not believe the things that I do. 
   The amazing thing is that this job has been humbling and inspiring when it comes to kindness, and the effect that has on a life. 

   I have one client in particular that I am thinking of, who can't be named for obvious reasons. He came to me after being in jail for a significant amount of time. He was utterly broken, anxious and physically ill from his time in prison. 
   A few people in town, including a pastor, a mental health worker and myself have shown kindness to this man since he has been released from jail, and I have watched him make many positive changes in his life. Last week he called me and told me how his life changes have been possible only because of the few positive supports that he has in his life. 
   He has started to attend a bible study with a pastor in town, he is clean from drugs and alcohol and he has made some really tough choices to better himself. 
   He tells me that the only thing that has changed is the fact that he has people in his life that are showing him kindness for the first time in his life. When I look at the difficult decisions and sacrifices that he has made, it humbles me. He is thanking me for putting in an extra 15 minutes here or there, and how that is something that he hasn't been given in the past. 
   Another coworker of mine gave this man his belt because his pants didnt fit anymore and he has no money. No alterior motive, just kindness. The effect that that seemingly small act had in this man's life is something difficult to wrap your mind around. 
   Some people have never been shown love and kindness. And sure, this man may still make some negative choices in his life, but these kindnesses stay with you. Everyone has the ability to drastically change another persons path through small acts of kindness. 
   This isn't the end of the struggle for him. But he doesn't know the effect he has on me when he calls and is doing well and breaking a cycle of addiction and abuse. 
  My clients inspire me daily, I work with marginalized people who only need someone to show them a little bit of unconditional love. And it makes my day brighter when they succeed.


More stories are always welcome. Share yours by emailing

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Cure of Kindness ~ 4

Just a dash of hope at the finish line

We have all heard the horrific stories of the past week. The fear, the carnage and the questions have permeated the news. Why bomb a marathon? Why children, families and people who run? I have no answers for things that make very little sense, however I do have a story. There were many stories of heroism, sacrifice and strength that day. This is a story of a small kindness that made a big difference to one woman. It stands out to me because I, like the man in this story, also work for the organization of YoungLife. My friend here in kelowna sent me this story and I am affirmed in my belief that I belong to a very cool community of people who love at every opportunity. Follow this link and read on.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The cure of kindness - 3

Timely Kindness

Kindness and community are treasures anytime, but there are certain moments when they mean so much more. When we are lonely, struggling and feeling hopeless, an infusion of kindness alters our perspective and lights up the darkness that threatens to consume. Here is a story from a friend of a friend. Although I have never personally met this woman, we share this common experience; kindness has brought hope in hard times.

Several years ago we went through a dark season in our family. My husband had lost his job. He became very depressed, which meant that he really struggled finding a new one and became very uninvolved at home. Christmas was coming, EI had run out, and my husband was working very part time. Our finances were unbelievably tight, plus our home situation was very bleak, with commitments at church, I didn't even have time to prepare, such as tidy the living room to put up the tree or bake cookies with my kids.

God started answering prayers I didn't even know how to pray. I couldn't afford to buy my husband a Christmas present and didn't have time to make one, but then I won a print from his favourite comic strip. A friend showed up at our door with a Christmas tree, cleaned our living room, and set up the tree with the kids. Then two days before Christmas, I was trying to figure out how I was going to find time to get to the store so that my family would have dinner on Christmas Eve and breakfast Christmas day. (The irony of my life - I was so busy planning a dinner for 100 homeless people that I couldn't find time to shop and feed my own family!)
Then the local police department showed up at our door. They blessed us with a Christmas hamper. As well as the traditional turkey dinner and gifts for the kids, it included extras such as a quiche that became Christmas Eve dinner, croissants that became Christmas morning breakfast, and it even had cookies my children could put out for Santa on Christmas Eve.
These three examples are the biggest ones of a season where everywhere I turned I found myself reminded that Christmas started with God's gift to us, and He is still blessing His children.

Elouise Simms

If you are someone you know wants to share a story here, email me at I will keep posting these stories until I run out!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Cure of Kindness - Instalment 2!

It's the little things

I can honestly say that though grand gestures are a wonderful phenomenon and change lives, it's in the little moments of kindness that we realize how simple kindness can be for all of us. Sometimes it doesn't have to cost a ton of time or resources and the impact is still greater than you realize. Here is a story of such thoughtful actions from a young friend of mine in university....

Hey Sarah, here is my story

  My story happened twice. The first time I was standing in line at my University's cafeteria with a coffee. The line was getting quite long as it usually does around lunchtime. The man a couple people ahead of me reached the till and proceeded to pay for about 5 of us. I think we mostly had beverages, or small food items. I was blown away by the generosity. The second time I was actually buying a meal and when I went to pay, the lady said, "done." When I gave her a confused look she responded with, "Someone has left their student ID with me to pay for people's food." It was almost the end of the spring semester, and if you do not use all your food money as a res student it just goes back to the Uni. I couldn't believe what had happened. It is amazing, but these small acts of love have impacted me greatly. I have not done anything quite so grand, but I have paid for a couple coffees of strangers. 
  My story is really quite short, but I still remember it every time I am in line at my University cafeteria

If you or someone you know has a kindness story they would like to contribute, email me at You never know how your story might brighten someone's day, or better yet, inspire brand new acts of kindness! 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The cure of Kindness - Day one

A basement, a bedroom and a impromptu indoor pool

I have asked my friends and readers to send in stories of kindnesses that have changed their lives or just their day. I have some, but am hoping for more to post this month so if you have one, please send it to Please let me know if you want to remain anonymous or if I am free to publish your name here.

I thought to start I would share a story of my own. I am blessed to have many, but I have picked this one for today. 

A few years ago, we had a bizarre rainstorm in my hometown. It poured like nothing we had ever seen before. People were canoeing in the parking lot of the mall and rivers were running down the streets. It was incredible to watch the lightening and the sheets of water hit the ground. 

Unfortunately, the next day we woke up to find an indoor pool we hadn't ordered in our basement. The kids thought it was hilarious as we scrambled to find shop vacs and fans and call the insurance adjuster. As it turned out, we were one of the lucky ones who didn't have sewage pumping up into our basement from broken drains and even broken toilets. Though we were grateful beyond measure for the lack of floaters, it also meant that the insurance company would do nothing for us. 

Another important detail in this story was that we had a teenager staying with our already large six person family and another couple moving in a week to join us in our four bedroom house. Staring at my drenched basement carpet and drywall, while my children joked about building a sailboat made me want to scream. It was definitely one of those stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off moments.

As Alex began shoving soggy books and ruined treasures into garbage bags, I did the only thing I could think of in the moment and called one of my good friends who owned a truck. 

"Can I borrow your husband and your truck for the afternoon?" "Sure, why?" "My basement flooded and its really bad. I need to take a few loads to the dump and start tearing apart drywall." "Sure thing. I'll send him right over." 

While Alex picked away at the basement, I headed to the hardware store for some work gloves and heavy duty garbage bags. I was gone for about an hour as I had stopped for a little private pity party on the way. By the time I returned, my house was full of about thirty people who I had varying degrees of relationship with. Some I barely knew. My friend, knowing how many people were about to live in our house, had rallied the troops on our behalf. Halfway through the afternoon, the basement was cleared, the soggy drywall had been cut away and complimentary pizza had arrived from the local pizza place owned by good friends. Even thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes.

When dinner was over, the men folk were sitting around and asked if we had anything else that needed to get done. Alex said he had been meaning to take out the old broken fireplace downstairs and lengthen the living room so we could add a wall for another bedroom. Well, they all lit up with the excitement of three year old boys in a new sandbox and started listing off who owned axes and sledge hammers. Luckily at that point I had to go to work so the demolition phase could happen without my fretting presence. 

Within a week, our house was better suited for our big family than it had been before the flood.

The great thing about this story is that it was not just our lives that this kindness effected. In the coming weeks, some of the people who had been invited to our house that day started opening up to each other with more vulnerability than they had had the courage to before. We got to participate in all sorts of kindnesses initiated by that group of people because one day my friend wouldn't settle for just sending her husband and his truck. That, my friends, is the great thing about kindness. It is contagious.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cooperative social experiments!

I caught some flack for the ideas in my last post for various reasons. I will not address them all here, but I did think one was certainly worth the effort of testing. I will need your help to do so. Let me explain.

I was told that I am a naive idealist if I think that love can actually, tangibly conquer anything. I was told that the world IS a dark place and there is absolutely nothing I can do to change that and it is at best naive and at worst arrogantly presumptuous for me to think so. Fine. Challenge accepted.

As someone who believes in the bible and the message that Jesus lived, I firmly believe that heaven can be walked out right here, right now. My heart beats with the knowledge that God's kingdom is one of peace, love, kindness, gentleness and hope where no one is left lonely or wanting. And I believe that as a citizen of that kingdom, I get to live by it's rules right now.

If you don't believe in God (as the person who called me naive doesn't) thats OK. The evidence is all around us in social science. We know that abuse lives in cycles. Well, so does community. Hate produces hate, love produces love. Period.

So, believe with me or don't. I don't ask that you make the same presumptions I do, instead let's try something together. Let's just tell stories and see how that affects our thinking, motivations and beliefs about the darkness in the world. My request is that you send me some stories about how kindness has changed something in your world. My email address is I will compile stories and begin to share them one a day starting in the middle of March. I will keep sharing them until we run out. I am hoping for four weeks worth of stories.

They don't have to be stories that changed you or your life in huge ways, maybe it was just a kindness that brightened a lousy day. If you want to share a story that belongs to someone else, either leave their name out or get their permission first. If you wish to remain anonymous, that's cool. If you want me to share your story verbatim and give you credits, you got it. 

Stories change and inspire me regularly. As we have been journeying through this year of transition and  deliberate loss and giving birth to new ideas, it has been stories that have kept me going. Hearing other people's stories has given me courage. Reminding myself of our own stories has given me endurance. Stories are fabulous motivators.

I am so looking forward to reading more stories from some of you, my friends and loved ones! Please don't be shy or cynical! Or, if you are, please just write me anyway!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sticks and stones

Today is anti-bullying day and I am sporting my pink hoodie in support of raising awareness about bullying. The funny thing is, I don't think bullying needs more awareness, kindness does. Before you get all uptight about me sounding unsupportive of a great cause, let me explain...

I hated elementary school. My memories include some laughter and a couple beloved teachers, but they are over shadowed by memories of feeling lonely, outcast, misunderstood and being "different." I learned to distrust people and their motives by Jr.High and had very few long term friends. I bounced from social group to social group never feeling like I belonged. I was teased about my height, weight, breast size, how I expressed my emotions, and my socio-economic status. Entering adulthood, I just assumed that is what the whole world is like.

The unfortunate part is that, for awhile, the whole world proved me right. The news was constantly streaming murder, violence, war, and rape into my home. Television shows and movies were full of conflict, violence, and yes, sometimes do-gooders, but often brooding ones who justified the means by their ends. Advertisements on TV, in magazines, and billboards were constant reminders of the ways I wasn't giving my children everything, being beautiful enough to satisfy my husband, or living in a nice enough house to invite people over. Somehow, I still felt like I didn't belong anywhere. That I wasn't good enough.

Worse than all of the indirect pressure, was the direct pressure. People who didn't understand that we were choosing a big family and a stay-at-home mom lifestyle would give us "helpful" advice. "Sarah, you could get a job too. There is subsidy for daycare now. Then you guys could buy a house." In our darkest time, Alex was laid off just before Hannah was born and we were forced to go on welfare for a few months. Alex was depressed, my Dad almost died, Hannah was an incredibly sick baby and I began to suffer from post-partem depression. When I was still pregnant, the man at the welfare office demanded that I go look for work and made a rather derogatory comment about why we were having another child if we couldn't support the one already in our care. It didn't matter that Alex is one of the most hard-working men I know. It didn't matter that we had paid into that service and it is meant to be a safety net. It didn't matter that Alex was determined to work again as soon as possible. We had been labelled lazy and it was apparently OK to punish us for it. Luckily he was corrected by a supervisor.

My point is, bullying is everywhere and constant. It is not just in school or from kids. It's in welfare offices, on the street, evident in road rage and permeating every social media platform created. Negativity, judgement and quick-witted sarcasm are not only present, but celebrated and encouraged by the laughter, assumptions, and self-righteous ideals of even the most mature, usually kind, individuals in moments of thoughtless carelessness. We are all aware of bullying. We all engage in it even it is just as silent spectators. 

My proposition is that maybe the movement of good news is just what we need. The coffee shop magazines that tell stories of kindness, justice and beauty feed my soul and make me a better person. The incredible videos of courage posted by my friends on Facebook give me hope and inspire me to be the kind of person that walks in courage myself. Just like words can hurt us, they can bring life and healing and joy.

So today, in honour of anti-bullying day, alongside our posts about bullying and the damage it causes, let's also make it pro-kindness day! I challenge every friend who reads this post today to share an uplifting story or video or quote in person, on Facebook or any other platform they have. 

It is not enough to abolish what is wrong, we must fill the gap that is left with what is right. 
If you want to dispel the darkness, you gotta shine some light.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And they lived happily ever after.

They lived happily ever after. With those words ended the earliest stories of love and happiness I remember hearing or reading. There was never a sequel. With that one sentence, characters and places I fell in love with simply ceased to be. Stricken from existence was a life I immersed myself in as though those few words were all the closure I needed. 

Alex and I were married on a beautifully sunny July day when I was seventeen and eight months pregnant. After being best friends and mortal enemies alternatively for four years, we walked off into the sunset to live happily ever after...


I am so glad we have not been struck with "happily ever after"- itis. Since that summer day almost fourteen years ago, we have been riding the rollar-coaster of life full tilt. There have been no ball gowns, glass slippers, or carriages. Although we did have a lovely sun coloured palace for a little while. We have laughed and fought, cried and made-up. We have mourned together and differently. We have celebrated and refused to celebrate. We have come to a deep sense of understanding and knowing, and we have come to the realization that we will never "get" each other completely. We're OK with that. Sometimes we are passionate and overwhelmed with awe for each other and other times we just are. Nothing special or shiny, we just co-exist.

There have been days, especially recently, when I have felt a little guilty. I have worried that we don't give our kids enough, or that we have put our sense of adventure and social responsibility ahead of their happiness and security. The last few weeks have been a particularly gruelling inner battle, right until we went to Cranbrook for a visit.

While we were there, pretty much everyone had a good cry at one point or another. My heart broke to remember in full colour what we left. Not just my sunshiny house, but the people, the family, the community, and mostly, the people who so completely love my kids. Then, as they usually do, my kids taught me a few lessons. I will tell you my favourite, funny one.

Shiloh and I ran into our friend Jody and her son Alec who is one of Shiloh's best pals. We sat and chatted for a few minutes and I eavesdropped a bit on the kids while Jody and I spoke. I was blown away by Shiloh's enthusiasm about our new life here in Kelowna and wanting to share it with her friend. Suddenly she turned to Jody and said, very emphatically, "Auntie Jody, when are you coming for visit? You should come soon! You can stay in our sketchy fourplex!" She said, "sketchy fourplex" with the tone most children would use for Disneyland. She has no concept that her invitation could be a deterrent rather than enticing. I wasn't going to correct her because, once again, it is my head that needs alterations.

I don't need "happily ever after" and I am no longer buying into the idea that my children do either. We need adventure, challenge and heartache to be mixed in with our joy. We need battles to fight and gardens to plant. We need to get dirty and tired and sad. We need to sing and to be silenced. We need to laugh until we cry and cry until we laugh. We need for life not to be fair and for joy to be costly. We need to keep learning to be content when we have everything and nothing. 

Happily ever after means the story is over. I am not ready to be finished. I want to keep turning these pages until I run completely out of of breath. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Our first car, an old story, a new lesson.....

Recently, we were swapping first car stories with a new friend. We were laughing at our youthful choices and the circumstances surrounding them. I remember that old car with fondness for a couple of reasons. First, it served it's purpose and got us where we needed to go and second, it's a fun story to tell.

Shortly after we were first married, with our new baby boy in tow, we purchased a little chevette for $300. You could start it with a screwdriver and if you accidentally locked the doors (we never locked them on purpose, having nothing worth stealing) you had to climb in the back hatch, which couldn't be locked, in order to get in. It had character. My favourite part of the story is what made it particularly special to us. It is also what will cause me to inspect any cars my children plan on purchasing in the future....

Our little chevette had a fairly significant hole under the drivers feet. We could literally put both feet on the ground when we were stopped. Obviously that would have been quite an unintelligent choice while we were moving. We affectionately referred to it as the Flintstone mobile. Alex welded a large metal plate to the bottom and covered the hole. Whoever sat behind the driver would get a splash, but it worked. It was not our dream car, but it was an adventure and we were grateful because our other option was no car.

The lesson in the story of our little chevette hit me this weekend as we were moving into our new apartment. Or rather, trying to move into our new apartment. We walked in on Friday with the realtor and it was utterly trashed. The smell of a completely hot-boxed house hit us on the way in as we made our way up stairs covered in torn linoleum. A heater was ripped out of the wall, there were almost no lightbulbs, and the carpet was putrid. To top off an already horrific experience, we walked into what was to become our bedroom to find the walls graffitied. The pentagram was quite artistic.

I wanted to cry.

For two days we lent our dog to one of my new co-workers, stashed our stuff in an old friend's trailer and couch surfed with four kids. We waited for the cleaners and carpet installers to redeem the place we needed to call home. Meanwhile two of four kids came down with a cold that made their faces swell and leak all kinds of special and interesting fluids.

Sunday night, my friend Megan and I stayed to create some sense of order while Alex stayed with the kids at a friend's house. Early Monday morning I headed to work and prayed for perspective. I'll be honest, I was saying bad words under my breath. I was having a full-on temper-tantrum on the inside. I own a gorgeous house in Cranbrook! IT is delightful! IT has sunshine coloured walls! IT has a shower that smells spring fresh! WHY am I putting my babies to sleep in a sketchy place, so far away from the home they have always known?!

When I came home Monday evening, the kids were playing happily on the part of the floor not covered by boxes, Alex had set up the beds and was scrubbing the artwork off our bedroom wall. "You know, I was thinking." he said, "It is amazing the damage one family can do in a short period of time." "Uh-huh." I said, thinking to myself, "way to state the obvious, Alex." Then he went on to speak to the heart of who I am, or want to be anyway, and provided the perspective I had prayed for that morning. "Imagine what could happen if we looked at it the opposite way. Imagine the good our one family could bring if we were intentional about it. Even if we only stay for the length of our lease, we could leave this place so much better. We could fix it up, meet our neighbours. This could be a really great experience."

Our chevette was a great car. It was not our dream car, but it ran, we bonded over it, it met our needs and most of all, it is still memorable thirteen years later. After all these years, we still tell chevette stories while we never talk about the cars and vans that ran smoothly. (Yes, we did have those!) This place is a disaster, but like our chevette, we are determined to make it better. Like the chevette, it is not our dream house, but it will serve it's purpose and it is already a pretty good story to tell.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Her name means grace

Her name means grace and she stands in it.
She is effortlessly elegant, light shines from her cheeks, and kindness drips from her lips.
Sweet and gentle, she is wise in the eyes.
Her's is beauty that is birthed from deep within her very soul.

Her name means grace and she sings with it.
There is ever a song of hope on her lips, springing from her golden heart. 
Even in silence her message is compassion.
She is a wordsmith, painting peaceful pictures with her voice.

Her name means grace and she speaks with it. 
Not eager to please, but content to bring peace, she is the diplomat, the negotiator, the mediator.
She is the calm in the storm, the lighthouse in raging seas.
Little warriors lay down their wordy weapons at her command.

Her name means grace and she is wrapped in it.
Creator of everything, Father of all, knit her together from strands of stars.
She is cherished by the one who taught whales their song.
For a moment she is ours and we are grateful.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The facebook dilemma

There are pivitol moments when parenting doesn't come with easy decisions. Your almost 13-year-old son approaching you asking to create a facebook account is one of those moments.

This happened to us in the summer as we were packing to move. Our son had very valid reasons to want to be connected online. We were moving away from the only home he had ever known and he wanted to be able to stay in contact with his friends and family.

My objections were just as valid.

At it's best, Facebook is a beautiful social platform from which healthy life-giving messages can be spread, loved ones can stay connected and share pictures and events, and old friends can be reunited. Facebook can be a place of inspiration with the best and simplest moments of mankind shared in a broad community. It can even be a place to find solace and feel like you are not alone when tragedy strikes. It can mobilize people toward common good and educate on global issues. At it's best, Facebook can be a wonderful tool.

At it's worst, Facebook can expose the worst in us. Pictures unintended to be shared can be posted by friends...or foes. Bullies can feel uninhibited without having to see the consequences on their victims faces. The mob mentality can run rampant with quick blame and venomous hatred when sad things happen and perspectives of real incidents aren't fully shared. We can feel justified in slipping a veiled word of insult into our statuses. We can even mistake a forlorn status update for genuine reaching out. At it's worst, Facebook is a breeding ground for the worst in us.

Navigating this online space with honesty, dignity, and discernment can be tricky even for us grown-ups. I can't shelter him forever and certainly he has a deep need to keep in touch with people he loves. Let's face it. His buddies probably aren't going to write him letters.

What tipped the scales for me was finding a box in his room with a T-shirt stretched over it. I was very upset and and told him it was irresponsible to destroy his T-shirt like that! He gave me a very stern look, "That box is inappropriate and that is irresponsible to have in here."

We had picked up boxes from the liquor store to pack with and hadn't bothered to look at what was on them. There is a particular brand of wine named after dogs of the feminine variety......

I pulled the shirt off the box and saw that he had tried to scribble over the word that offended him and couldn't black it out. So I asked him why he couldn't just put the box out of his room if it bothered him. Again, I was surprised at his response, "Right Mom, put it out where my little sisters will see it. Like that's responsible."

It was at this point that we decided Levi could open a facebook account. This kid has a pretty good navigation system of his own.

He knows how to use his words kindly and he knows how to remove things that could hurt someone's feelings from his wall. He talks with us about who he friends and knows he can talk to us about anything he sees there. His privacy settings are high. We have talked with him about the fact that Facebook basically means that his life is public record. What happens in Vegas, doesn't stay in Vegas anymore.

Alex and I know eachother's passwords. This keeps us accountable to each other and saves us from any temptation to say or do anything we wouldn't want the other to see. In the same way, Levi has shared his password with us. I don't care what anyone says about privacy, I value safe accountability higher than my privacy. This doesn't mean we snoop on each others Facebook accounts. Just knowing that someone who cares about us has access helps all of us to think carefully before we press the send button.

The funny thing is, after all of that begging and decision-wrestling and deal-making, he doesn't really use his account anyway. So now he is dealing with the facebook politics of people who think he is ignoring them just because he doesn't respond several times a day. Ah, Facebook.