Tuesday, 20 June 2017

WORM WOUNDS

Each morning as we leave our home, I admire the beauty of our property. The huge, decades-old, leafy poplars that flank the east and south sides of our home are host to many songbirds who begin and end our days with joyful sounds.

On the western edge of our property, which is the street-facing side, are about 9 young saplings nobody planted. Really - nobody. When the first one sprung up out of the cinder block, we assumed it was an alder bush...so we weed-whacked it. Two years in a row. And then it began to grow for spite; the tree is now taller than I am, in the center of 8 mini-mysteries just like it.



As I behold our property, shrouded in shade, I am deeply grateful for divine favor. You see, we live in a prairie region which is currently enduring its second year of infestation with tent caterpillars. These worms are offensive to both the eyes and ears, and they devour trees. Well, not the trees exactly ... but all their leaves. Much of our neighborhood has been stripped bare by these pests.


Next door to us is an elementary school, where my kindergartener enjoys spending time on the playground equipment. Sitting there with him this weekend, I noticed the unusual condition of the schoolyard trees. 

My husband has taken great care to band our trees with carboard, duct tape and chainsaw oil. This has prevented the dreaded tent caterpillars from climbing and feasting on our trees; however, no such care has been given to the schoolyard poplars. Defenseless, they have become patchy with what I like to call "worm wounds."

"Worm wounds" are bald spots in a tree which testify to the evidence of pests being present. Sure, some branches are still leafy enough to house a home for a pair of hummingbirds or a family of robins. Other branches, though, are like a window to the heart of the tree - its trunk, which is clearly visible, exposed for temporary lack of the standard leafy veil.

That's the key. These worm wounds are, in fact, temporary. I witnessed these trees last July, stripped as naked as though it were mid-December. I also witnessed them blossom in spring, and I see their branches - even in their current state of duress - attempting to bud after each fresh rainfall.

I am humbled as I observe nature reflect my life. There are "worm wounds" in my story which seem to strip parts of me naked and raw with each season of newness and growth. They leave my core exposed: afraid that my past will thunder into my present, that the scorching rejection of yesteryear will char my very soul, and that I will never be complete in my purpose. What if I'm never more than blotched?

As clear as the call of the pigeon from the school rooftop, I hear it. The whisper to my soul from its Creator: "To every thing, there is a season." There is a time for feeling a little naked and on display; there is also a time the soul-sucking worms move on. The key is to keep bending with the breeze, soaking up the sun, and welcoming the rain.



The trees do not refuse the birds a nesting place simply because they are momentarily less bountiful. Rather, they allow the birds to build and turn those exposed areas into arenas for amplified, unfiltered music. Robins, hummingbirds, sparrows and finches - all project their voices to fill the world with song.

Oh, that my heart would do the same! Focus on the thriving branches of life! Become a shelter for others -  a strong, safe place from which to sing their songs. Unafraid of those who may injure hearts but cannot destroy the soul. Realizing that no season lasts forever, and those who sing with joy, are capable of eliminating any worms who attack. 


Friday, 16 June 2017

SPRING RAINS

I have always had a love/hate relationship with spring. On the one hand, I enjoy watching Mother Nature come alive in all her glory: green grass, budding trees, violets, lilacs, and a chorus of birds. Sweet soul food!

On the other hand, however, spring typically means a season of rain. I have never handled this season well. For me, the gray skies bear down with a heavy depression and an urge to sleep until forever. My bones ache, my heart weeps for reasons completely unknown, and my whole being is so disgusted with all. that. mud!

Becoming a mother emphasized the emotional conflict of this annual season for me. As soon as it is warm enough, children want to be outside. As soon as it was warm enough, I wanted to be inside: windows open, kettle simmering, coffee mug handy, up to my elbows in cleaning supplies! A house through which spring breezes blow is a house in which no dust bunnies grow, right? Wrong.

The mother in me was compelled to trade dancing with the mop for ring-around-the-rosy every. single. time. And how is cleaning cobwebs ever more fun than blowing dandelion seeds in the wind? Until the fair-skined became the sunburned, the insect-bitten became the allergy-stricken, and the puddle jumping became mountains of laundry. UGH! Where is this work/life balance you speak of?

I am entirely uncertain what is making the difference these days: the prairie lifestyle or my middle age. For whatever reason, I am finding myself drawn to rainy days. I love to open the window at my desk and breathe in the smell of fresh rainfall. I love the sound of the wind, skies the color of a warm, wool blanket ... and the coffee that warms from the inside out.

I find myself doing a different sort of cleaning this spring. It's a soul cleansing of sorts. A long look at the people in my life and the purpose of my life. I am discovering how to shed unnecessary layers, such as  guilt and shame and unforgiving gossips: I am growing into a more comfortable coat of self-acceptance. I am soaking up times of refreshing, and then - similar to a sponge - able to pour out love on those around me.

For the first time, I look forward to the rainy days. They smell of change and hope. Finally. ♡

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

MY RED DRESS

It was a getaway weekend of epic proportions in our world! We had purchased concert tickets a little more than 7 months in advance. We had arranged babysitting for the mini monster and booked a hotel 5 hours away from home. This would be an anniversary to remember!

It was the day before we were to leave town when I realized: I had never been to a secular concert before, and had no idea what to wear! A co-worker advised that I would see every dress code imaginable there, so anything I would wear to work would be appropriate. My oldest daughter recommended something casual, in keeping with country music. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought for the amount of time and money and planning invested, it might just be worthy of my best red dress and my fake pearl necklace.

I did, in fact, see every dress code upon arrival. There were short shorts paired with crop tops and flip-flops, jeans with tank tops and cowboy boots, leggings with flowy tank tops and ballet flats ... and a ton of maxi dresses. Worn by tall, slender girls with long, thick hair. And there I sat: a middle-aged fat lady in my long, red dress.

The concert was amazing. My husband was great company! Stepping outside, the breeze was refreshing as we lined up for the shuttle bus to return us to our hotel. True to my people-watcher self, I listened and observed the people around us in conversation. The one lady in particular who caught my eye was a middle-aged mother who was clearly older than she appeared, based on the age of her husband and her adult son. I noticed her perfect makeup, her frilly shirt, her wavy hair, her tanned skin and the twinkle in her eyes. And there I stood: a frumpy middle-aged mom in a plain red dress.

We boarded the bus, chatted about the show, and exchanged Snapchats with the kids back home. Arriving at our dropoff point, we walked across a parking lot and hit the walk light that would allow us to cross the street to our hotel. It seemed to take forever for the light to change! I cracked a joke about standing on the corner for a little too long while wearing a red dress.

That's when he rocked my world. My husband laughed, slipped his arm around my waist and drew me close. He told me how great I looked and how much he had enjoyed our evening together. He wished me a Happy Anniversary. And I soaked it all in, standing there in my best. red. dress.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

A MAN, HIS MOM AND MARRIAGE

Although I listen to a wide variety of music, my favorite types are Christian, Country and '80's music. Because my battle with depression mandates that I am careful what I feed my mind, I don't often listen to country music. For that reason, I had not heard Tim & Faith's new song "Speak To A Girl" until this week. Powerful!

SPEAK TO A GIRL
 
She don't give a damn 'bout your Benjamin Franklins, she wants Aretha
She don't really care how you're spending your money, it's all how you treat her
She just want a friend to be there when she opens her eyes in the morning
She wants you to say what you mean and mean everything that you're saying
 
'Cause that's how you talk to a woman, that's how you speak to a girl
That's how you get with the lady who's worth more than anything in your whole world
You better respect your Mama, respect the hell out of her
'Cause that's how you talk to a woman and that's how you speak to a girl
 
She don't give a damn 'bout your pride or the lies that you're hiding behind
She just wanna feel that you're real, that she's near to the man that's inside
She don't need to hear she's a queen on a throne, that she's more than amazing
She just wants you to say what you mean and to mean everything that you're saying
 
'Cause that's how you talk to a woman, that's how you speak to a girl
That's how you get with a lady who's worth more than anything in your whole world
You better respect your Mama, respect the hell out of her
 'Cause that's how you talk to a woman, that's how you speak to a girl
 
 
This song hit a nerve with me, because I have seen this for myself. How a man treats his mother is absolutely indicative of how he treats (or will treat) his lady. Although I knew this to be true, I did not understand the logic or the science behind it. From my personal experience as a mom of boys, I think it's linked to a mother's unconditional love. Especially during the rebellious teen years, a boy can get used to being able to say whatever he feels in the moment and knowing his mom will still love him the next morning.
 
What has surprised me in recent years is the shift. I hadn't actually realized what was happening until I heard the lyrics to this song, but I have observed it to be true: when a man's relationship with his mother changes, his relationship with his wife will also change. It does not matter if it is for better or for worse; whether he draws closer or more distant with his mom, he will do the same with his lady. If he does not feel free to speak his mind to his mother, he will not feel free to be truthful with his wife. They are directly linked.

Ladies, this means it is in your best interests to choose carefully. Be intentional about watching how your love interacts with his mother. Look for someone who remembers his mother's birthday, who honors her on Mother's Day, and who phones home regularly. Observe if he is able to have a respectful difference of opinion with her without disrupting the relationship. You are observing your own future.

Men, this is a call for integrity. Please don't show us one thing and become another. Don't impress us with flowers for your mom if you're going to follow that act with forgetting our birthdays and anniversaries. Don't tell your mother she's beautiful and then reject us for pornography. If the woman who has disciplined you can still be beautiful, the woman who cleans your underwear and sleeps with your night farts should be beautiful to you as well. Remember - beauty is more than physical attraction: it's who she is on the inside. If you have ceased to see her beauty, give her the same courtesy you gave your mom and move on.

It has been noted by mental health professionals that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I wonder what the world would look like if those words were applied to every romantic relationship between a man and a lady. I wonder if more couples would identify an issue and care enough to break the cycle by seeking counselling. I wonder how many kids would be raised differently ... and how many boys of the next generation would know how to appropriately "Speak To A Girl." Because that's on us.
 
 
 



Saturday, 13 May 2017

AN OPEN LETTER FROM EVERY WOMAN


Dear Friend,

If you are reading this, I already love you. You have chosen to read an article solely for the purpose of hearing what a woman would want you to know. I hope I do this opportunity justice: that you read, understand and consider these thoughts.

This weekend marks an occasion on which ladies everywhere are celebrated. Not all ladies, though - just the mothers. More accurately, it's really only the easily identifiable mothers who are typically honoured.

For example, today I walked into our cafeteria at work. The chef had thoughtfully hung a few large paper flowers from the ceiling. As I paid for my lunch, he exchanged my coin for a rose he had hidden under the counter. I looked around the room to find each mother had been given a rose. At least, the ones who were visibly identified as mothers. You know us by our fluffy exteriors, our kangaroo-pouch tummies, our sagging breasts and the bags under our eyes.

Though grateful of his kind gesture, I wondered just how the rose became symbolic of Mother's Day in the first place. Doesn't the rose already have Valentine's Day? And weddings? And a host of other romantic affairs? I wonder if it's more appropriate to consider this day a little more deserving of bleeding hearts flowers.




I wondered how many bleeding hearts, metaphorically speaking, walked through our cafeteria today. Not just women, but also men who love women with a fierce and passionate love. I wonder how many quietly left today who may have been more deserving than I of the rose I was holding.

The heart bleeding for babies they never got to meet.

The heart whose hands place a single rose on a grave too tiny to hold all the love they had to offer.

The heart who has never lost their temper with a child because they can only dream of having a child with whom to be frustrated.

The mom who only has access to visits with her child.




I also paused to consider the ladies who received roses today, and the relevance of bleeding hearts in their world. The gruesome and labour-intensive process of giving birth: the first omen of the blood, sweat and tears to follow.

Tears shed over broken bones and hearts, lost games and friendships, and terrible teenage moments.

Tears that come with growing pains as moms grieve their child's growth - outgrowing our breast, our laps, and - all too quickly - our homes.

A mother's heart expands and stretches so thin it all but bursts, somehow seeping out of our eyes in salty droplets.

Perhaps the forget-me-not would serve well for Mother's Day, instead.



For the mom who tried so desperately, but lost her child to adoption.

For the mom who chose to place her child for adoption, but remembers with so much love.

For the elderly, who find themselves alone more frequently these days.

For the orphan, who can never go home again.

For the homeless, who wonder if anyone remembers them from better days.

If you are still reading this, please know that I am not suggesting we abolish the time-honoured tradition of Mother's Day. Indeed, please continue to honor the mothers in your life! Could I recommend a few adjustments, though, that would change the whole game?



In church services, sporting events, and other public meetings - consider asking all the ladies to rise. In honor of the mothers they are, the mothers they will be, or the mothers they desire to be. In honor of the mother who gave them life.

Don't wait for the calendar. Honor moms throughout the year! Offer lunch bag ideas at the start of each school year. Have an emergency fund for moms who can't finance the Tooth Fairy. Supply pocket packs of Band-Aids and Kleenex at the start of baseball/hockey season. A tiny aloe plant, symbolic of healing, can be discreetly given to a mom who has experienced loss. Keep a stash of angel items for those who have been brushed by angel wings. Carpool a working mom's child who wouldn't otherwise get to swimming lessons.

Stop viewing motherhood as mandatory. There are many reasons women may choose not to have children: health issues, genetic disorders, finances or plain old personal preference. The ladies who make this choice are brave and confident; please help them celebrate the fullness of life in their chosen path.


This weekend, some women want to feel special. This weekend, some women just want to be a face in the crowd. This weekend, every woman just wants to feel included in some way. On Mother's Day, please publicly celebrate every woman, who has made another woman, a mother. Because we all matter. No one is forgotten.

Much Love,
Vicki

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Way of Words

Have you ever read a book that completely and utterly undid you? I mean the kind of book that rips you open, and you wonder how the author wrote your heart on paper. Ann Voskamp's books do that to me.

It was January 27th of this year (I checked!) when I received an e-mail at work that stopped me cold. The subject line read simply, "If You Are What You Love, What Are You?" Grateful that my manager understood my daily devotional as my wellness, I knew I would need to really absorb what Lisa-Jo Baker had written. It is early May now, and that e-mail remains in my inbox at work, because I have been wrestling with the answer.

In February, I found myself reading Ann Voskamp's latest book, The Broken Way. Not at all unusual in my world, her writings both struck a chord in my heart and coincided well with almost every Scripture and inspirational writing I picked up at the time. I struggled between reading the book slowly enough to soak it in or reading it all at once! One of the pieces that grabbed my attention was this fresh perspective on love:
 
      "But isn't this the way of love? Love bears all things? 'To bear', stego in the Greek. It
      literally means a thatch roof. Love is a roof... Real love is a roof. Real love makes
      you into a shelter... makes you into a safe place. Real love makes you safe. Stego."
 
Whenever I imagine a thatched roof, I picture a home built into a hillside, with the natural grass surface as a roof. (In all likelihood, this stems from the days my younger bookworm self read the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in a dirt-floor home with a thatched roof.) But something new came to mind this time: that kind of roof would have creatures living in it! Not just creatures you chose for pets, but rodents and spiders and worms. Undesirables.
 
 
 
What do you do when you build a safe place and messy, undesirable things happen? When conflict happens. When you're always chosen last. When a spouse leaves. When you lose a child. When friendships fall apart. When family dissolves. When you find yourself miles from home, busy but empty. What then?
 
      "Your one broken heart always splits God's heart in two. You never cry alone."
 
I've had this conversation with my best friend. We are, each of us, very alone in our current geographic locations. Despite being 10 hours away, Sara has been my closest option for a coffee date. It goes without saying there have been more pity trips than road trips, each of us calling the other in moments of overwhelming loneliness.
 
      "What if instead of waiting for good things to happen to us, we could be the
      good thing to happen to someone else who's waiting? Every soul wants to
      experience a powerful connection... to be fully seen and experienced by Someone."
 
I read this last quote just before lying the book aside to participate in a book launch for Lisa-Jo Baker's Never Unfriended. Around the same time, Lysa Terkeurt's Uninvited arrived in the mail: a thoughtful birthday gift from Sara. As I read through these two books on friendship, I learned that I was far from alone in my fear of being the new girl, in my failed efforts to maintain long-distance friendships, and in my tears over the next steps. Confirmation of Ann's words above encouraged me to become the friend I had been waiting for. Where to start?
 
The dear long-distance friend who mourns the loss of her mom today as though it happened yesterday. The fellow high school graduate who lives in a remote territory with no extended family and very little sunlight. The woman I was led to through the strangest of coincidence, and whom knew I was called to encourage. The Life Groups starting up with church families. The mom of littles up the road who loses sleep while her children gain teeth. These are people I can reach with handmade cards, with gift cards, with cups of coffee and potluck suppers and random text messages.
 
Even as my reach begins to extend, I begin to see and hear repetitions of 1 Corinthians 13 everywhere. The emphasis is specifically on love and kindness. I realize that, while I am making strides personally, I have work to do professionally. My reaction is not always kind when I hang up the phone or delete the email. And in the middle of our industry's busiest season, I pick up The Broken Way after a 3-month hiatus, and begin to read Chapter 8.
 
With the flip of a page, it leaps out at me:
 
      "You are whatever you love ... We give our lives to things we never would if we got
      honest and thought about them for one single moment. Our ideals never compel like
      our loves."
 
And I get it. I have spent hours scrolling social media, with the strongest connection made being my WiFi connection. I have invested time chasing Pok√©mon for my 5 year old when we could have been cuddling over a book instead. I have extended open invitations to stop in for a beverage rather than delivering a coffee or cookies to someone who's struggling. I have lamented my lack of effective influence while often being impatient and less than kind in my circle of influence. Ideals versus love.
 
I am humbled that God would spend 3 months making sure I understood the message. I am thankful that His mercies are new every morning. I am determined to love, because He has loved me so faithfully and so unconditionally. May I learn, and be known for, that kind of love.
 
 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

To My "Practice Husband"

Hi. It's been a long time. Twelve or 16 years, depending on whether you're counting from the last time we saw each other in the courtroom, or the last conversation we had. So you're probably wondering what's prompted this letter: it was a song.

I was listening to country music radio (yes, still a country fan) when I heard the singer's words: "I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man." My heart stopped, and my breath caught in my throat. I couldn't believe your face had flashed before my eyes. But it's true.

I held onto bitterness for a very long time. The bad outweighed the good, but there were good times. I had to dig pretty deep to find them, but it helps to remember them now. It helps to speak them out loud to our children, who were too young to remember much of those days. They don't remember us dancing or playing Ping-Pong or serving at the soup kitchen together. But I tell them, because I want them to know those days happened. I'm OK with saying I miss those days, when your laughter was contagious. And I'm OK, too, with saying I wish you were a better man. Because just when I had begun to find a place of forgiveness in my heart, you stabbed it with a new knife.

Back in the day, I chose you. I chose you to be my first husband. I chose you to be the father of my children. I chose you as my eternal partner. I chose you to grow old with me. And now, I'm sorry.

I found out later you married me on a $5 bet. I'm sorry that $5 bet cost so many people so much.

I chose to marry you when the options before me were to marry you or never see you again.  I'm sorry I wasn't level-headed enough to see the value of taking more time to truly know each other.

I chose to stay through flaring tempers and swinging fists, because I believed our children deserved to know their father.  I'm sorry I made you a father, and kept you in that role too long; it is abundantly clear to me now that you either did not want, or were not ready for, children.

May I pause for a moment to brag here? Our children are beautiful. They are my treasures. In a world of hurt and anger and things we got wrong, I got it mostly right with them. Sure, there were teen moments ... but we got through them. And those kids are two of the world's most amazing adults to date. They are hard workers with kind souls, freckles and deep blue eyes. They are astonishingly protective of each other, and of their friends and chosen family.

I asked them if they wanted you at their high school graduations. I have kept tabs on you through the years via a "creeper account" on social media. I always knew the day would come that I would have to answer questions, and I wanted to be ready. Confession: I had years to prepare, and still wasn't ready. There is no way to prepare for the emotions associated with a moment like this.

Although they were not ready to have you attend their high school graduations, they are ready now. A daughter has questions. A son seeks a conversation with a man he doesn't remember. And your response? Classy as ever. You refused to acknowledge him on social media. You accepted her friend request, but refuse to send a single message. Not even "hello." Clearly, you were done with them the day you pulled their photos from your wallet, threw them on the windowsill and walked out. You're a special kind of demon.

Am I angry again? Yes. Will I let it weigh me down again? No. You were my practice husband. You taught me how to identify a real man. You taught me how to choose a real father. You taught me how to raise strong, intelligent human beings. You taught me more than you took from me. I will not let you win now.

I am grateful for all I have learned. I am sorry for all you have thrown away, without knowing the beauty it held. I am saddened for the tears in my children's eyes. I am blessed to see those tears absorbed by the shoulders of a man who carries a weight that was never his by rights ... but it's his by choice. For all the choices I have made, the greatest choice of all is the choice made by a man to step into a broken home and love it whole again. Thank you for being my practice husband; you allowed me to get it right with the man who matters most. My second-and-forever husband. The real father of my children.

I wish you no harm. I wish you no luck. I simply wish you were a better man.

Farewell,
Vicki