My inner control freak learned a few Advent lessons this past week. It turns out that one key to managing expectations during the holiday season is “holding the reins loosely.” Do you feel like you’re hanging on as tight as you can, letting the season drag you along at warp speed? Maybe there’s something in here for you today?
It’s December, which means we tend to start racing the clock and the calendar to the finish line. Christmas Day. What if we simply paused each day of Advent to take a deep breath?
What would it look like to focus on preparing our hearts instead of our homes, and anticipating the Gift, instead of the gifts? Read on…
I visited an exhibition of some works of the Dutch and Flemish Masters a few years ago, during a short visit to Amsterdam. There were works by Van Gogh, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Rubens, to name a few. These are considered priceless pieces of art, held under lock and key, deemed museum-worthy by someone’s standard.
Crowds line up to see these masterpieces, and though some of these meticulously painted canvases are breathtaking in their detail and portrayal of subject, occasionally, I fail to see what all the fuss is about.
I am the beholder and I don’t see beauty. My eyes see crude brushstrokes and muddy colour, lack of depth, distorted faces and shapes.
I guess that’s why I’m not curating any museum collections.
One of the pieces I had the pleasure of viewing was a little known work by Dutch artist Egon Schiele, called Portrait of Edith. Edith is the artist’s wife.
By earthly standards, as Schiele depicts her, she could hardly be described as beautiful. Her hair is a little askew, she is oddly shaped, her pale face is mottled and she holds only the faintest hint of a smile. Her husband has painted her on an empty background, in which she almost appears to be hanging. Her hands dangle uselessly.
But her eyes tell a different story. They are warm and inviting. Her dress is vivid, stripes of exuberant colour that jump off the neutral canvas.
All I could think as I looked at this woman was her husband’s love for her. The adoration that is so evident in this painting of a plain-looking, flawed, ordinary woman, elevated to radiance through the eyes of her husband.
It causes me to consider God’s role in art. After all, He is the original master artist, creator of everything in and of this earth. Including me.
Have you ever stopped for a moment and considered that? You are a masterpiece.
But, whose eyes do you see yourself through? Are you a reflection of the artist who made you? Or are you looking through a different lens?
The media tells us how we should look, how we should dress, how we should act, and that age is simply a thing to defy. Do you measure up to society’s standard?
So many women are dissatisfied with themselves. Their bodies. Their hair. Their clothes. And the only people that benefit are the industries that feed our dissatisfaction. Those marketing gurus that tell us if we wear this makeup, or those clothes, or lose that weight, then everything will be better. Our life will be brighter.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that all women just start letting themselves go. I’m all for mascara, lip gloss and cover up; heaven knows that sometimes the dark circles beneath my eyes need a little help!
And despite my general disdain for exercise, I know the importance of being healthy and fit.
I certainly don’t want to be defined by how I look–because by society’s standard, my grey hair and plain face already miss the mark. Edith and I have that in common.
Instead, I want to embrace all the wonderful things that age brings with it: wisdom, perspective, authenticity, security, contentment. These things are true beauty.
Look at Psalm 139:13- 18
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!”
What a picture of how God, the master artist, sees the author!
We live in a world filled with plain-looking, flawed and broken people. We are all brushed with different strokes; our colours are muddy and our faces and shapes distorted. This is who we are.
And God thinks you are beautiful!
By His standard you are museum-worthy.
Sixteen years ago this week, my husband got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I answered yes (obviously). But the bigger question here is, who remembers an engagement anniversary?
(Except for my niece, whose engagement video (yes, video) went viral on Youtube and ended up on syndicated television in the US. I can see how maybe she might remember that 16 years on.)
But the rest of us. Really?
Or maybe it’s just me?
I’m not really great with dates in general. But for some reason this one has made its way into my love’s Blackberry calendar. (He’s evidently not that great with dates either.) So, we celebrate the engagement. I won’t ever complain about dinner out.
While I don’t have any recall on the date, I do remember the occasion perfectly. He hatched the plan one evening, getting my two daughters—who were eight and 10 at the time—to scheme along with him.
I was taking evening classes, finishing up the last few requirements of my degree program while working full-time, so every Tuesday evening, he would come over to my place and watch the girls while I was at school.
In my absence, they concocted a plan that involved a tin foil ring (and a couple of prototypes).
When I got home from school, they ambushed me, so I didn’t have time to be annoyed that they weren’t in bed yet. (Well played, kids!)
Giggling, the girls greeted me at the door and led me to where Chris was waiting with a ring box in his pocket. When I was positioned in just the right spot (masking tape x on the carpet?) he dropped to one knee and took my hand.
He pulled the box out of his pocket and proceeded to open it, revealing the most beautiful tin foil engagement ring I had ever seen. (In fact, it was likely the only tinfoil engagement ring I had ever seen… for reasons which will quickly become apparent.)
As he attempted to slip it onto my ring finger, it fell apart—which is where the prototypes came in handy. Quickly, the kids whipped out another one, hopefully sturdier than the last. Note to self: back-up engagement rings should be a thing!
They instructed me to close my eyes and swapped out the tinfoil beauty for an actual real engagement ring. And I knew when I opened my eyes that we weren’t playing anymore. Suddenly, this was real.
We had talked about marriage, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. We hadn’t talked timing, so a Tuesday evening in October was a surprise. But it was a welcome surprise.
It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. My yes didn’t just impact him and me and the fluttery butterflies of new love. My yes was a commitment on behalf of my daughters too. I had to decide that I was willing to take a chance on love again and this time had to consider there were three hearts involved. No longer just one.
There were some people in my life who, for one reason or another, thought I was making a mistake. Another mistake, perhaps. After all, look how well the first marriage worked out for me. By that token, maybe I should have been more skeptical of the symbolic properties of a ring that promptly fell apart?
But 16 years on, this man has cherished and loved not only me, but my daughters too, more than I ever could have hoped for or imagined.
It had nothing at all to do with the ring and—tinfoil or gold—the promise it held is what counts.
During our wedding ceremony four months later, he included vows to both my daughters also, presenting them each with a keepsake box marking a day that was significant for all of us. (Tucked inside each box resides one of the tin foil prototypes.)
Two more daughters now round out our estrogen-heavy family. And I could not ask for a more kind, gentle, loving guy to wrap his arms around us all.
These days, his knees aren’t quite what they used to be. A lifetime of soccer is taking a toll on his body, piece by piece. But if he happened to bend awkwardly down in front of me with a twisted up piece of tinfoil in hand, I’d say yes all over again. (And then help him up.)
I’m not much of a jewelry wearer. Though I love the sparkle of diamonds and can seldom walk purposefully past a shop window glittering with gemstones, I’m not dripping in diamonds and most days can be found with the same pair of little studs in my ears. My wedding rings usually stay on. Occasionally I’ll wear a necklace. Almost never a watch.
But I have this bracelet. I wear it most days. It’s not gold or silver. It’s not expensive nor does it glitter. But it is precious to me. Because it carries a simple message that whispers to my heart.
Life is crazy, isn’t it? Do you feel like that sometimes?
You’re in a season of life and it’s full and busy. And we think there’s salvation in the next stage. But each stage has its own crazy and busy. Each is different and yet so much the same.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is so much good in each season too. The crazy and the busy aren’t necessarily bad. Our lives are full of activity and relationship and work and things that challenge us, mold us and shape us.
It’s just that it all happens so fast.
We always seem to find what it takes to get through each stage, even though when we’re in the trenches it’s hard to see the big picture.
And then, just when the big picture comes into view, sometimes life throws you a curveball.
- You lose your job.
- Money is tight.
- You have kids.
- Someone gets sick.
- A diagnosis of some kind.
- Marriage ends.
- A loved one dies.
- Parents age.
- Something happens with the kids.
The curveball looks different to everyone. It rolls in like a tidal wave, sheer size and force and power. And it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotion of it all. It moves quickly. It’s overwhelming.
Four little words that carry with them the reminder that I’m not alone in the midst of the crazy.
The ability to sit in stillness—to find rest and peace and contentment there—is a lost art for most and I am no exception.
In the grocery store line, I whip out my phone to check my Facebook feed or the latest Instagram photos. In the doctor’s office waiting room, I check my email. If I’m waiting in the car for my daughter to come out after school, I can be found scrolling local news sites or reading my ibook. A steady stream of stimulation keeps my mind tossing and turning.
I may tune out the tsunami of my life for a moment or two, but I fill the deafening silence with other clutter.
And so I wear this little reminder.
The words are rooted in scripture.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”
Sounds like a curveball doesn’t it? And yet, in the midst of it all—earth moving, mountains trembling, waters roaring—there is the invitation to simply be still.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Four little words that remind me to just chill.
Trust that no matter what I’m going through, and no matter which season I’m in, I can know without a doubt that I am loved.
And I will find what I need to get through it.
And I will come out the other side a different person—better, stronger, perhaps more humble, but certainly changed.
Four kilometers in four months. That’s how far I’ve managed to get to since I “started over” back in April. It seems like a lifetime ago that I resolved to become a beginner again when I wrote this post.
I was no longer starting a fitness regime from a place of being relatively fit. Instead, I swallowed a heaping dose of humility and mentally and physically put myself back on square one.
I laced up my sneakers and started running from lamppost to lamppost, literally. At the start, I could maybe run a stretch of about 25 metres at a time. Walking the 25 metres in between. My total distance was a humbling 2 km. All the while, the voices in my head—like a tiny angel perched on one shoulder and a devil on the other—competed for my attention.
“This is embarrassing! You are so out of shape! Go home, sit down.” My inner naysayer reminded me over and over again all the reasons I couldn’t and shouldn’t be out pounding the pavement in lycra leggings; all of my love handles on display for passing motorists.
Straining to be heard above the din, my inner encourager (who, sadly, lacks volume and presence) whispered, “Look at you go! You’re out here moving your body! Good for you!” But she’s oh so quiet and hard to hear most days.
Thankfully, she’s persistent.
It wasn’t long before I was able to run the distance between two lamp posts. And then three. And then a whole block between cross streets. Each run, pushing myself to go a little farther than I had the time before.
Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. By “pushing myself” I actually mean, praying desperately to reach the arbitrary landmark I had set as a goal.
“Please get me to the stop sign.”
“Please get me to the next corner.”
Breathing heavily. Panting. Gasping for air with lungs that refuse to expand. Legs aching: lactic acid flooding the muscle cells, also gasping for oxygen that isn’t coming. There’s simply not enough to go around.
It’s still not pretty. But, here I am almost five months in and I am able to run about 4 km at a stretch. Depending on the elevation gain or loss of my route, sometimes a bit more, occasionally a bit less.
But the most important point that I don’t want to get lost in the story is that I’m still doing it! (Insert sounds of celebration here!)
I’ll be honest though, some days it’s a tough slog just to get out the door. Besides understanding the biology and physiology of pain and lactic acid build-up, learning to run again has also been a physics lesson. Specifically one addressing inertia: “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.”
In other words, an object at rest tends to stay at rest.
Can inertia be considered a medical condition? Because, if so, I definitely suffer from it. Apparently, I LOVE rest. Thankfully that external force required to change my behaviour lives inside my head and mind over matter occasionally wins the day.
With that in mind, I’m looking ahead to a loose goal I set for myself back in April. Built-in accountability—a 5 km run. On Sunday, October 2nd, I’m going to be participating in the CIBC Run for the Cure. And, I’ve officially registered, so there’s no turning back!
It will be an anniversary of sorts for me. My very first formal run was also a Run for the Cure—21 years ago—in 1995. It was another “starting over” for me, only four months after my husband at the time had walked out on our marriage.
It was a tough slog then too. I was younger, undoubtedly in better shape than I am now, but I was still gasping for oxygen – struggling through circumstances that took my breath away. Gut-punched regularly by the rejection that characterized my days.
And yet, I did it. Set a goal. Worked diligently toward it—faith carrying me when I didn’t have the strength to carry myself—and proved to myself that there was good in me. Not only that, but God brought alongside good friends who ran with me, encouraged me, cheered me on.
And now, 21 years and another four months later, I’m doing it again.
I’m still terribly hard on myself. I still have another kilometer I need to get under my belt. I’m glacially slow when I run. (You may think I’m exaggerating, but trust me, I’m NOT!)
But I can see that finish line on October 2 and I’m going to cross it.
The tag line on the registration package for the run this year is “We are all changemakers!” That phrase resonates with me deeply. I know that in this case, it refers to the powerful impact that fundraising and awareness can have on a disease.
But, I take it more personally than that. I am not the same person I was 21 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Or two years ago. Or even four months ago. I believe that change is implicit in growth. And change and growth for the good needs to be celebrated.
This year, I’ll celebrate with a run. Who’s with me?
I was at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre a few weeks ago for my regular six-month check-in with my CLL specialist. My wait was a little longer than usual, which I don’t mind because I know when the time comes that I need a little extra, it will be there for me. Cancer is hard.
When she finally entered my little examining room, she apologized profusely. Her eyes sad and heavy, “Sometimes I just get a patient that I don’t know what to do with. Even with some time after diagnosis, all they can wrap their heads around is ‘Oh my god, I’m going to die.’”
I get that. I really do. I know that not everyone’s story is the same as mine. Each cancer has its own personality, each patient his or her own reality. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
Ultimately though, the diagnosis is always terminal. That’s the nature of life; it ends in death. (Such a cheery thought, am I right?)
In that light, the “OMG, I’m going to die!” becomes a moot point, doesn’t it? Really, the question should be, how do we respond to the diagnosis while we’re here?
My remedy is simply this: Live.
I don’t mean just live, as in continue breathing, eating, sleeping, working, lather, rinse, repeat daily. I mean REALLY LIVE. Live like you just sat down with your doctor and she told you you’ve got six months to a year.
What would you do differently? What is it that you’re putting off right now that tugs at your heart?
Relationships? Job? Tasks? Travel? Creativity? Hopes and dreams deferred?
- I’ll do this when the kids are grown
- I’ll do that after I retire
- When I have more time
- When I’ve got more money
- When I get my act together
Do these resonate with you?
I confess I am guilty of using each and every one of these
reasonsexcuses at various times over the course of my life. (Probably a little too frequently.) And, to be clear, they still make their way out of my mouth from time to time. This post does not come from a place of having figured it out or having my act together. Far from it. Rather, it comes from a place of looking long and hard in the mirror and asking myself if I’m truly living the intentional life I long for.
In the forefront of my brain is the knowledge that my time is running out. And when that astonishingly persuasive little voice of practicality or fear whispers all the reasons I shouldn’t/can’t do whatever it is I’m moved to do, I want to scream. If I could grab myself by the shoulders and give me a good shake, I would!
The days will never get longer; 24 hours is 24 hours. And maybe money will never be more abundant than it is right now. And really, do any of us truly have our act together? Some put on a better facade than others, but I think every person has their own battlefront.
Quite frankly, NOW is when you’re here!
Unless you’ve been living off the grid, under a rock in Canada this summer, you’ve likely heard of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip.
Upon receiving his diagnosis of an inoperable, incurable brain tumour, Gord Downie did not curl up in a corner, and wallow in self-pity. Instead, he proceeded to launch one last Canadian tour of epic proportions.
In one fell swoop, Gord became Canada’s sweetheart and the very picture of bravery and courage in the face of death. Take that Cancer!
Gord Downie represents HOPE. He has single-handedly inspired a generation of people with his resilience and strength and message of hope in response to unimaginable hardship. He gave as much as he had to give and more. He’s choosing to LIVE.
12 year-old Natasha Gould, who passed away on August 4th this year, after receiving the crushing diagnosis of DIPG (an aggressive, incurable form of brain cancer) spent the last year of her life sowing seeds of hope everywhere she went. She saw an opportunity and seized it.
Upon diagnosis in May 2015, the doctor advised her family to have the summer of a lifetime. And, according to her father, that’s exactly what they did. “It turned into having a year of a lifetime. We packed in a lot of things. There were no regrets,” he said in an interview with CBC news.
“She saw that she had a purpose in her life to advocate and spread the message and draw attention to the fact that we need more energy to try to find a cure to childhood cancers,” he added.
And in the midst of it all, she lived! She fulfilled a dream of being a cheerleader, performing onstage with her troupe with OMI, mastermind behind the hit song of the same name. She spoke publicly about her battle with cancer, advocating for research and funding, she even participated in a TEDtalk.
She was 12. While cancer slowly stole her vibrancy and, ultimately, her life, she chose to live every single minute of her last year boldly.
So, I’m writing again.
Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of writing this summer. But now I’m publishing again. For every internal whisper that reinforces all the reasons I shouldn’t/can’t, I’ve got a faith that says:
Why are you waiting?
What have you got to lose?
Your time here will not last forever.
We have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Sure, plan for the future, but not at the expense of living today. Today, choose to view your limitations as opportunities instead of endings.
It occurred to me not too long ago that I’ve been living in the past.
Reflecting on the past has its uses for sure: developing character, instigating change. But, in general, it’s not a good idea to dwell there as a substitute for actually living in the present.
So, on that note, there’s this little niggly thing that’s been bothering me that I need to deal with once and for all.
Confession: I am no longer fit.
It’s not even the outward appearance that I struggle with the most; a good outfit can hide a multitude of sins. It’s the fact that, despite my quite obviously unfit body, in my head I still think I’m in the same place I was 15 years ago, fitness-wise.
In my head I’m still a lean, mean running machine. I could sit on my rear end all winter and get up in spring and knock off 5 km like nothing. Heck, I ran a marathon!
But really, how long can you NOT run, and NOT be fit, and cling to these things as though they might still actually be within the realm of possibility?
I think it’s time to let go and face facts. I am no longer a runner.
Several humbling moments over the course of the past few years have
hintedsuggested loudly—that this is my new reality. But, as with most things, I’m slow to catch on. Or stubborn in my refusal to accept it.
But I’ve been thinking lately—in part because I’m not liking what I see in the mirror, and in part because it’s spring and the weather in Calgary is gorgeous—there is just so much I miss about running.
So, I’m letting go of my past.
However, I realize that if I’m going to be successful at this, I’m going to need a radical change of both my attitude and my mind. I need to alter the way I think about both me and about running.
I am a beginner.
And running isn’t solely about races and speed and distance.
I need to be gentle on myself, and forgiving of my own shortcomings. And I need to be willing to celebrate even the smallest victories—like successfully running from lamppost to lamppost. And then perhaps, my first full kilometer.
For me, it’s going to be a marathon accomplished only by baby steps full of grace.
Coincidentally—or not, I’m also starting a new session of bible study THIS week, and I’m going to be going through a book called The Rest of God: restoring your soul by restoring the Sabbath.
Because whose soul couldn’t use a bit of restoration these days?
Coincidentally—or not, this book reinforces the same concepts I’m trying to wrap my head around with regards to my running. The author wants to radically change the way we think about Sabbath and Rest and he does it by first helping readers to change their attitudes and then encouraging them to change our actions.
So, I’m “starting over” in a few areas of my life, and I’m hoping that the things I’m learning in both areas will collide and result in great change over the long haul.
It will be a marathon, accomplished by baby steps full of grace.
I feel like a caged animal.
My calendar is full. My schedule is busy. I have lots of important things to do and places to go and people to see.
You know those animals in the zoo? Not the little guys, or the reptiles. The big ones. Lions. Bears. You know the type.
Their environment dictated by walls and fences.
In the wild, they’d be roaming. Covering hundreds of kilometres in search of food. A mate. Family. Migrant. Moving. Going somewhere with some purpose.
But in the zoo, they are confined. And so they go. But it’s around and around. Wearing a path on the perimeter of the enclosure. Always moving. Going nowhere.
In a rut.
That’s how I feel.
I’ve erected walls and isolated myself in an enclosure. It keeps me safe and spectators firmly at a distance. I don’t let many people in. And I rarely venture out.
It’s generous in size, and yet, it’s more confining than what I was made for. I was made to be in the wild. Created for more than what I am doing. Going around and around. In my self-imposed rut.
Even the fact that I am writing this affirms my cyclical nature. Every September I make New Year’s resolutions. Every January, I refuse to make New Year’s resolutions. Every Spring I lament that my pants don’t fit. Every week, I commit to eating better and exercising more consistently. Regularly I resolve that I will begin writing again.
It’s like an album with a scratch in the vinyl; the same phrase or chord over and over again. I’m so very tired of it.
I half-heartedly try to break patterns. I step to one side of the rut or the other. It’s not that I’m doing nothing. I try. I have good intentions.
But some days, every little obstacle sends me right back onto the familiar and safe path.
I withdraw a little more, determined to shield myself from whatever conflict or upheaval threatens.
Threatens what though? Threatens to make me uncomfortable? What is it exactly that I keep protecting myself from? Since when did discomfort become the enemy?
Carefully, I place my feet, one in front of the other, in the path that is so comfortably worn. It’s easy there. And, it’s evident to me that my rut is so deeply carved that I need a ladder to climb out of it.
I can no longer look out and see the walls of my enclosure. I can only look up and see the sky.
Today though, the sky is blue.
It looks like hope.
Today looks like a good day to walk a different path. To take a flying leap off a cliff even.