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.