Twenty Seventeen: Breathe

“Breathe easy into the questions. The name of God. Yahweh – inhale, exhale – is the sound of your breathing. There is your miraculous answer. As long as you are breathing, He is always your miraculous answer.” – Ann Voskamp

2016 was an exciting, wonderful and really hard year for me. After practicing entering fully into the life that I believe God has prepared for me, saying YES to new challenges and opportunities, something happened, and I started to strive to PROVE my worth instead of believing that I had worth.

So the word BREATHE has been whispered to me, prayed into me, prayed for me. People send me quotes all focused on the word “Breathe.”

So I didn’t choose my word of the year, it chose me. Breathe.

What does breathe mean to me? Well, it was chosen 2 years ago as one of my five “big rocks” in the At The Table course by Barb Borthistle. Breathe, at that time, was taking care of myself:

2015 Personal Declaration BREATHE

At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. Luke 4:42 NIV

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16 NIV

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12 NIV

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them and knelt down and prayed.” Luke 22:39-41 NIV

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

My goal this year, in my year of breathing, is to take that quiet time every day. I’m doing the Hello Mornings Challenge for that quick and easy God Plan Move (read Psalm 143:8, look over the list of things to do today, drink a glass of water). I am not one of those people who wake up happy and ready to conquer the day. My beloved brings me a cup of coffee and eases me into the day. I’m not ready to be all Crystal Paine-y and give up my coffee (ever) yet.

So this is how I will continue to work through my day…

I will do the 3-minute challenge and continue to write out the scripture from my devotional reading (currently I’m reading one of the Love God Greatly plans on YouVersion). That will be my morning focus time. I started Bullet Journalling (BuJo) in November and it’s a perfect way for me to hit the God & Plan part of the day.

I will continue to read and reread inspirational books to stretch my current practices. Currently I am listening to an audio book that I’m not super into as it feels health and wealth gospel-y to me, I am giving it a chance though, because it is stretching me. I’m also working through a book: Journaling as a Spiritual Practice by Helen Cepero. Journaling daily is something that is essential to my mental health and I’ve gotten out of the habit during the Christmas holidays!

I took a Sacred Pathways Survey a couple of times during different times when I felt close to God and when I felt distant – and discovered that Contemplative Prayer is one of the ways I prefer to connect and worship God. So this year I am going to explore prayer through various authors (contemporary and classic) and spend time in solitude so that I can listen (without all the tiny voices, or loud bickering voices – five kids and all). I am hoping to have 2 personal retreats and am currently researching where to go (Bowen Island and maybe A Rocha Brooksdale or Galiano Island) as well as a couple retreats with just my beloved and I (one is scheduled in March!!!).

There are two other parts to Breathe – a physical one and one of NOT DOING. I’ll talk more about those in a later post.

I’m curious to know if you have picked a “word of the year” for 2017? What is it? What does it mean to you and how will you know you have accomplished it?

Embrace My Weakness

I wrote my personal declaration a few weeks ago and “scheduled” many things into my daily schedule. All new things. All things that will be taking a significant amount of time to adequately add into my habits.

So, it wasn’t perfect.

Actually, it was a complete and utter F A I L U R E.

There were kids with colds. There was a broken rib or torn cartilage or some kind of injury to my chest that required days and days of bed rest. There were days of supreme exhaustion. There were evenings of great anticipation followed by nights of nightmares (my own and children’s), restless legs, wet beds.

Disappointment in myself for not being able to meet the unrealistic expectations of changing my life overnight. Disappointment, for me, is usually a feeling of guilt and shame that is quickly pushed outwards with anger towards anything and everyone who interrupts my strategic plans to fulfill whatever expectation was previously hindered.

The other day, after at LEAST four days of not being able to brush my hair (due to the fact that my daughters take my hairbrushes and then promptly lose them) I stood in my shower with a nit comb (because of course they wouldn’t steal THAT from my bathroom) and proceeded to detangle the dread lock that had formed at the nape of my neck, where I keep my ponytail/bun tied all. the. time.

As handfuls of my once abundant hair were coming out in the comb, I felt the frustration and anger with my health coming to a head, yet again. There are so many issues regarding the kinds of testing that my naturopath says I need, treatments my specialists would like me to have and what my family doctor is allowed to request with the results of the blood tests she’s allowed to ask with irregular frequency. The frustration has been building since my mid-teens and I very frequently have complete break-downs because my health sucks.

So I was complaining to God, yet again, and pleading that he make me healthy, please. I was a bit startled when he said to me “I created you with limitations. I BLESSED you with limitations. Learn to embrace them.”

If I hadn’t gotten sick in my twenties, I wouldn’t have devoured books of spiritual theology while spending two years in bed in pain. Then, if I hadn’t had some harrowing experiences in my love life, I wouldn’t have reconnected with friends and moved to Canada to study spiritual theology. If I hadn’t been weak and in pain while attending graduate school, and if there hadn’t been a bus strike at the same time, I may not have had the opportunity to connect with my Beloved. If we hadn’t struggled with infertility, we wouldn’t have five amazing children. and on. and on. and on. and on.

Through the struggles, even in the times when I questioned with feelings of abandonment and anger, God was building something more amazing than I could possibly imagine. Trust is an issue that I am not so great with. In all those buzz feed quizzes? The thing that matters most to me is loyalty. Loyalty. Who has been most loyal to me? God, of COURSE, and yet, I do not trust him. Not with the minuscule matters of “will this cheque clear before my rent cheque goes through?” or the greater matters of my children’s hearts, lives, loves.

During my struggles. My anger. My times of turning away from God…

He had mercy on me. He blessed me with Ken. With a multitude of children. Kind landlords, glorious food, generous friends. The lists I make for myself to “make it up to God” have never been checked off by my doing – I’ve never stayed in a state of pure communion with Abba for more than a few moments of bliss, especially since becoming a mother. Not that being a mother isn’t blissful – but it’s not the same “self-centered” quiet vibrations of joy streaming through my body and soul.

Grace and mercy are key words in my life. The first conversation Ken and I had included our personal understandings of grace as we struggled with imperfect health. My life calling has always been drawn by the ideal of mercy (or maybe the heaps of burning coal) being what changes a life, draws a person into Love, obviously I have not yet grasped fully as a gift, but more than that, I have not received it. Maybe that is the key. I’ve been GIVEN mercy over and over and over again. But receiving that maybe means, a bit, recognizing it (repentance?) and being grateful for it. Is it possible that being able to receive the mercy and grace has to happen before we can open ourselves to be vessels of God’s Mercy and Grace?

“It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
Romans 9:16 NIV

My checklists that are never marked off, the teary child on my arm right now because baby sister chose the older sister to cuddle instead of herself, my desire to keep writing, my heart breaking at her tear stained cheeks…

…cuddles and tears just turned to giggles and rhyming along with a short lesson on alliteration, she is currently snuggled up to my side (complaining she ate too many sweets at the bridal shower) so I can continue to write. One of my constant issues is making time for taking care of myself, which seems so anti-Christian. I am determined to finish writing out these thoughts, so having an almost six-year-old curled up next to me is not only wonderful, but amazing. A mercy. A blessing. God’s abundant grace for me – who screwed up too many times (today) to deserve such beauty and joy in my life.

Now, there have been many times I have prayed to God the prayer of Paul in II Corinthians, but it wasn’t until I was texting a friend about the freedom from God telling me to live within my limits, meaning that I would have to understand them, accept them and find joy in the messy house, the less than perfect children, the more than occasional KD or frozen pizza for the kids’ meal when my appetite and energy are less than sufficient for a family of seven.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV

I don’t think this will be easy for me. It hasn’t been easy for me, ever.

But realizing that it is what God wants me to invest my time in this year – this life – I am going to take it seriously. Just as I took His Word “You are Mom” to change my way of thinking over the last two years, in a huge and beautiful and sustaining way, “Embrace my Weakness” will be my call over the next year.

Actually, about the time of my 2013 post (regarding being 39 and being terrified of turning 40) I received a gift from my niece. A piece of artwork she created while serving with YWAM the previous fall and winter. Ever since I received it I have wanted to write about it. To tell her why it meant so much to me, to tell you how amazing she is, to tell you about a book that I wanted to read (J.I. Packer) but haven’t gotten past the first thought-provoking chapter “Weakness is the Way”. SO, in light of God’s great mercy…

I’m adding a 6th Pillar to my Personal Declaration, MERCY. In all the spiritual inventories, mercy is the strongest of motivator of my faith and actions. YET, I have such a difficult time receiving, accepting it.

MERCY

This isn’t about being more merciful, but understanding what mercy is, what it means to receive mercy and how to be merciful (especially as a parent to children with special needs). I’m not sure how you set out to measure how merciful you are or how “good” you are at receiving mercy. BUT, I do think that the more I look for opportunities and fill my mind with greater understanding, the more I will be able to recognize the gifts of grace and mercy in my life, and the more I will be able to offer the gift of love and grace to others.

With that in mind, I want to fill my mind with scripture, with the words of theologians who’ve blessed us over time, with the words of people (probably more sociologists and psychologists) who study what weakness and vulnerability gives us in becoming more fully human. I will also fill myself with fiction. The more literature we read, the more we can start to put ourselves in another person’s mind, to understand things with a different perspective, walking in another person’s shoes… recent studies have shown that READING literature actually makes us more compassionate as individuals, because we are better able to connect with another’s point of view.

With this in mind, over the next year, I will …

  • read a minimum of two theological/spirituality books on weakness.
  • read a minimum of two books on subjects relating to vulnerability (Brené Brown comes to mind)
  • read/reread a minimum of two books on FASD and learning – in order to respond more effectively to the limitations my children face and may face in the future.
  • read two books on Grace/Mercy, preferably more in the realm of spiritual theology that has stood the test of time (possibly attend a summer school session on Grace and Mercy in Ephesians or James).
  • finish reading Hold on To Your Kids and attend at least one Neufeld Institute lecture. I will also look into borrowing the DVD series (again) and completing it as well.
  • read 12 for fun fully-fiction books that I haven’t read before, and re-read as many as I have time.
  • have created a “to-read” list that meets the above qualifications for the non-fiction books and finish One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez before February 1, 2015.

If you have any grand words of wisdom on the topic of vulnerability, weakness, mercy and grace…please share them. If you have some amazing books for me to consider adding to my 2015 list, please share them as well. When I am more set with my Personal Declaration, I will share some of it with you. It’s not quite the same as what I have posted under MERCY, but it’s similar.

If you are just starting to read about my journey (this blog really started when Claire Marie was born in 2009, but most of my writing happened while I was on bed rest in 2011-2012 while pregnant with Cora Beth. I have ongoing struggles with health – and have received mercies that I cannot even begin to list. And if you click on the “Just So Happened” category link, you’ll see a few of the miracles in my life. I have a new miracle to share – that happened in October of this year – it’s amazing and joyful (and it’s not another surprise baby, fyi) but I am still figuring out what it means to have miraculous healing – and still struggle with health and chronic pain. But that is another story.

Forty & a Half

SO…

It’s only been about 21 months since I’ve posted anything about what is going on in our lives. The amazingness of our five children. The craziness of our schedule. My healing (and lack thereof) and my lack of style, (hair, clothing and otherwise). My fears and worries. My hopes and gratefulness.

Mostly, I’ve had a major change in my life since I last blogged. Like, really blogged.

I was scared of turning 40. Now I’m 40-3/4 and I’m still scared of it. Inside I feel like that I might not have much more life to love my husband or children, much more change to be in the world. Mostly I find my insecurities in “life” growing while my joy is dwindling away by this paralyzing fear.

Not too long after I wrote thirty-nine, I was taking a walk from the Starbucks to the Staples while the sun was melting the clouds and I was stressing about money. Again. I have spent many years contemplating what my “next” career step would be – get my Masters degree in Social Work? Theology? Become a Dietician? I don’t know, and every time I thought about it I would get excited and overwhelmed in making any forward moving decisions.

So that April mid-morning, with a hot cup of coffee in hand (and maybe a kid or two in tow, but that I don’t remember actually) I was just doing my usual “I wonder what I should do” thinking and sort of asking the air (I may have been talking to myself while walking across the parking lot – which is maybe why I hope I had kids in tow), when I LITERALLY heard and FELT God say

“You are Mom.”

And from there the flood of what being a mom of 5 kids meant. At that time, Cora was just barely one year old. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to keep looking to the future and worrying about money (although I still am and do) but trust that God has me EXACTLY where I am supposed to be RIGHT NOW.

Not two weeks later I realized that my daughter’s frequent calling-home-sick-after-lunch were actually migraines. That my son’s outbursts towards his sisters before we even left the playground after school were MUCH more than my inadequate parenting. There was something going on at school. By the end of April, three weeks after I heard from God that I was supposed to BE MOM and not worry about DOING so much – I KNEW that I needed to homeschool.

Now, yes, part of it was the un-fun-ness of the 45 minutes of fighting with my daughter to get her to walk the 1/2 block to school. Or the tears late in the evening when we finally discover that our son felt like he wasn’t smart enough to ask a question in class. It didn’t help that after a full 6 hours at school, and an hour on the ice, we often had 2 hours worth of HOMEWORK for my primary students. Sometimes having to teach what they were supposed to be able to learn in the classroom. My kids both had SEAs and it wasn’t enough. My kids are not only easily distracted, they need to move A LOT (so restricting recesses is a VERY bad idea if you want them to be able to listen during class time) and if they aren’t able to pay attention, they BECOME distracting. It’s a lot for a teacher to take, so my kids, who may have had great teachers, became targets of their peers. Because they can sometimes be socially awkward. Or ask questions that were just answered. Or forget a step in a process. Or can’t sit still. OR maybe because they are adopted. They don’t look like me. Or my husband. Or their little sisters. They have 2 moms…

SO, now my life is full of planners and student learning objectives that get fleshed out but I’m already weeks behind. Lots of driving around to therapies (that the school district had my kids on wait lists for – but never received – and probably would never receive). They are learning self-regulation. They are learning to co-operate with each other. They are learning that the GREATEST socialization are those people who are with you forever – family. They are accepted. We are learning as we make mistakes. Lose our tempers. Have “AHA!s” as we learn to read, add, clean the bathroom, do laundry, share, be hospitable…

I’ve also struggled in the last year with a lot of illness and injury. I’ve realized that maybe my disabled diagnosis is an actuality and instead of fighting it so hard – I should take care of myself a little bit better. I spent most of the winter months sick. Most of the spring months dealing with neck issues (degenerative discs, pinched nerves) and most of the summer at a pain clinic being needled and learning about pain, nerves and muscles, how to move…

I’ve also been given a few respite opportunities to get away with my beloved. A night in Whistler. A weekend in Manning. I discovered that I kind of like camping. I love my extended family. I have the best teenage daughter in the world. Really. I do. I wish I had money so she could do all the things she wants to do (and have the cool rugby stuff).

I’ll share more later. In more depth. With more thought – with more meat. But that is my frizzy-haired, busted-glasses, broken-bodied 40-year-old life right now.

It’s also my grateful for my cuddly kids, my cookie-making-neat-freak teenager, my dancers and my hockey player, my rugby player, my leaders, my figure skaters, my photographer, my coffee bringers, my cleaner-uppers, my artists, my singers, my actors, my beauties.

I’ve been so blessed by this family. This house. This opportunity.

Being a Mom is SO hard. Too hard most days.

But really, it’s blessedly beautiful doing this eternal work.

Worship

I wrote this back in October, but haven’t felt ready to hit publish. I’m a little afraid of writing. I’m scared it will take time away from my kids, from cleaning house, from prepping homeschool lessons, from doing all I NEED to do. But, let’s roll with it and see what happens.

mission:mexico

I wanted to go “build-a-house” in Mexico when I was young. I wanted to go because “all my friends” were going. I knew that it was going to be bigger than me, that I would get to know God in a new way, that I would have to learn to lean on him.

But I never got to go.

• • •

Now I have a teenager whose friends are going to Mexico for spring break. I am ecstatic that my teenager wants to go to Mexico to build a house for a family. A multi-generational family – living in less than a shed. It is a home, mind you. But there are EIGHT of them living in the video above. EIGHT.

I’ve asked my family to not buy me jewelry for my birthday (it’s a traditional gift for the woman turning 40 in our family). Instead, I’ve asked that they give that money towards the build in Mexico. I want them to invest in the most precious jewel, the heart of my daughter. I want her to experience giving wholly of herself – from love, through Jesus’ strength – the blessing that comes from giving all you have. From being terrified – and still stepping forward. To working as a team with her friends (and yet to be friends). Not just the youth in our fellowship – but the adults, the children, the grandparents, the babies, the pastor, the youth leaders, the musicians, the nursing mommas…

I want her to experience the joy of giving to someone who cannot repay her.

• • •

And now we are just 5 sleeps until my eldest flies off for her first mission trip.

I’m panicking.

Money is all paid. Extra funds were donated for the family.

Just little details to work out. Packing. Etc.

I received a necklace from my sisters-in-law. Forty “beads” made of $5 bills, with a gem of a $100. To go towards hotel and flight, registration and the house. From donations made in my daughter’s name, to cheques and paypal transfers, we received OVER $1000 for this trip.

I am blown away.

I am so grateful for all the love you have given. For the jewel in my daughter’s heart. Please continue to pray for this adventure. For safety. For heart. For life.

And thank you.

so. very. much.

Holy Saturday

Nausea. Vomiting. Fear of moving, speaking, sipping water.

Painful to hold my baby. To laugh. To talk while standing. To sing.

Such is my life. Again.

I am lying on my back with slightly less pain than a few hours ago, but nausea so severe that I cannot even roll to my side without the feverish sweating that precedes a stomach explosion.

Why do medications have to do this to me? Why can’t it just help the pain, so I can heal, and not make me worse???

Oh Abba. You who spent hours on the cross, betrayed, despised, alone. Please give me a perspective of hope while I wait. Hope for healing. For feeling better. For holding my children. To even fold laundry.

But more than my own sake, I pray that you bless my sweet, exhausted, super-daddy/husband who has not had a break in many years. I do feel as if I am his burden to bear, his cross to carry. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. He has upheld me for so so so long, Abba. I want to not be a burden anymore, I WANT to be his helpmeet. Not the one who needs another trip to the pharmacy. To the ER. To bring water up the stairs.

Bless him. With rest. Deep, soul-satisfying rest. Satiate his weary body with the healing hand of your love. Your peace. Your hope.

And please, give me your eyes so that I may see how to live so I am not a burden. Please.

Amen