Guard Your Heart

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Dear Daughter,
I watch you, bare feet running. Long hair swinging. Bright smile shining. Those slender legs that keep you chasing after baseballs, basketballs, volleyballs and bouncy balls. Those hands that touch the keys on our beautiful piano. Hands that swiftly know how to plait a braid of gold or twist a strand of chestnut brown into a bun. You are such a beauty. And I often think how precious you are to me. Right now. Right this moment.
But of course you always have been.
That beautiful baby girl I held in my arms the day after Mother’s Day, thirteen short years past. Tiny bundle of love. Little dark head, which I tucked inside a crocheted pink bonnet no bigger than my palm, two ribbons of pink gently tied beneath your elfin chin. Petite frame- so small that the health nurse wondered if you were starving. Your mama worried she wasn’t feeding you enough, so we supplemented and prayed it would be enough. So much to take in with a fragile baby girl cradled carefully in my arms.
I loved you then. I love you still. I love you even more.
That little toddler who waddled around our house, two fingers firmly fixed inside her little rosebud lips. White blankie trailing close behind. Always ready with an impish smile. That little princess, wearing tutus and fancy dresses and all things frilly and extravagant. The little diva, a girl who always had time for a show, but never wanted to get her own hair brushed. Singing, dancing, performing, entertaining- it was your business many an evening after supper dishes were cleaned and things settled down a notch. Her daddy’s heart wrapped around her baby finger.
That little girl. Where did those tender years go?
After all the gymnastic lessons, figure skating, swimming and soccer days have ended, the elementary school years passed, we are now left staring wide-eyed into the next phase of your life: the teen-aged years.
You are so loved- you always have been. And sweetheart, you always will be. You are ours.
You’ve always been so precious.
Darling Daughter, you are just too precious not to caution and advise. I want you to know that a mama always thinks of what lies just around the corner. And what I see is this:
All things shiny and appealing, but which are not always revealed exactly as they seem.
All things fascinating and interesting, but which are not so exciting as they might offer to be.
All things promising and thrilling, but which are not always as stirring as might have first been pledged.
All things previously prohibited and forbidden, but which now beckon to you with enticement and allure.
All these things- they are not always what they claim to be. There will be lies, false claims and misrepresentations. There will be promises made that might not endure the test of time. Words spoken that will prove to be short-lived and disappointing. Arrangements agreed upon that will not necessarily be followed through. This is the reality of the passage of time and growing up. It is part of the world we belong to: broken promises, shattered dreams and ruined opportunities.
Sometimes in the growing process the floor falls beneath us and our world seems to be caving in around us. This is part and parcel of growing older. There is always the good. But there is the bad as well.
In all of these growing pains, there is one thing of which I must insist. That is, you must work to always keep your heart from damage and harm. And darling, there is only one way to protect your heart. If you can covenant to yourself and to our God that this heart of yours is worth protecting, that it is truly as precious and valued as your daddy and I say it is- that God Himself has said: then you will learn the secret. The secret to nurturing a heart is to safeguard it against anything you know that could intentionally harm it. Guard your heart as if it were fashioned from the most valuable material known to humankind. For in truth- it is. It is the most important part of you. It is where your soul meets before God Himself. It is sacred and holy and precious.
It is the most precious place that lies within you.
Sweetheart, guard your heart as if your life depended on this very act of purposeful intention.
You are getting taller. You are stretching and blossoming into a beautiful young woman. You are no longer my little girl- now my teenager; and we are entering through passageways to different rooms that serve to welcome and greet us both. We are learning how to take this journey together, and I pray we will always walk side-by-side in this excursion. Pray that you will always walk by His side in this journey.
While I learn to let go of your hand little by little, you are coming to find ways in which to hold on to His hand more and more. A Hand so much greater than my own.
I love you now. I will love you still.
Guard your precious heart.
Love ,
Your mama

Why Parents Need To Care About Teacher Cuts in Education

I am getting ready to finish my preparatory period at school when I decide to quickly check my email account for any new correspondence. There are a couple of junk mail items, but the one with my son’s name as the heading catches my eye. It is an email from his teacher.

I open the email and almost immediately, a wave of emotion sweeps over me. Without getting into particulars, it is apparent that this intermediate teacher cares a great deal about my son- for she has taken the time to express such to me personally, by way of a short note. Within the letter, she indicates the depth to which she understands my son’s unique character and personality. She shows me in her choice of words that my son is to her, not just another body that sits in front of her each day. A face or a name. To her, he’s a person. And she cares about him as an individual.

She really cares.

I am both touched and humbled by her decision to take an interest in my son. Because quite honestly, according to an educator’s job terms, care-giving is not the expected duty or function of a teacher. Teachers are associated more with the academic aspect of their job description: the facet of their employment terms that requires they implement curriculum and assess for learning with regards to their students- and all so as to affect academic growth.  A very worthy endeavor. Yet, it all seems very cut and dry: teachers show up each day, plan lessons, teach lessons, assess for learning, plan more lessons and then go home. While this is a very definite reality and necessary aspect of a teacher’s job, it isn’t everything. Another aspect that encompasses even more of a teacher’s real job description than merely this (i.e. a part of the job that many teachers do without urging, incentive or prompting) is care-giving.

Teachers are not just teachers. Teachers are so much more.

But until we as people are impacted personally by this care-giving aspect role that describes a true educator, we really don’t understand how important it is.

What I mean by this is…

Until your child has been bullied, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher calling you to see what they can personally do to rectify the situation.

Until your child has been without a lunch, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher offer half of hers to your child.

Until your child has been excluded, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher notice your child and seek them out.

Until your child has been owing money for an event, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher notice and make up the difference in the amount.

Until your child has lost a loved one, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher take the time to make a homemade card for your son or daughter.

Until your child has been scared, anxious, worried, fearful, hurt, overwhelmed or endangered, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher in their corner- rooting for them, whatever it takes.

Because until it hits you personally, it is really hard sometimes to remember what a monumental role care-giving plays in the day-to-day life of a school.

Care-giving is the heart of teaching.

When we cut teaching positions, we are truly hurting our children. Because we are impacting our classroom teachers ability to not only deliver curriculum effectively and efficiently, we are affecting their ability to be caregivers for our children. It has already been shown that the student-teacher ratio that has been mathematically formulated to provide the best opportunity for our children is flawed. This, because it doesn’t take into account the actual reality of our classroom composition. It doesn’t take into account the hundreds of little decisions and factors that inhibit teachers from reaching all their students. And it often impacts and perhaps even hinders teachers in effectively doing their job. This student-teacher ratio is based on theoretical possibility, not reality.

But even more than this, when we cut teaching positions, we are hurting everyone. When children come to school with hungry bellies, broken-hearts, fears and anxieties, worries and concerns, teachers are there to pick up where Mom or Dad left off. We are the next in line. We are caregivers. When teacher positions are eliminated, our children’s trusted advocates are disposed of. And children are left, becoming another face in the crowd inside a bigger classroom with more children with exceptional circumstances and needs: just like them. This is not to say that teachers cannot meet these extreme and complicated demands on their profession. But it is to say that I wonder how much longer the children can handle them.

There are few people in a child’s life who can truly meet their needs- both academic and personal. One source for this type of assistance are parents, guardians and family members. Another is our teachers.

Parents need to care about teacher cuts because it impacts their children. Maybe not today. Maybe not even tomorrow. But there will come a time when even one teacher might be the exactly right person to impact a child for the better. And when that time comes, it will make all the difference that the teacher involved was given the rare and beautiful opportunity to be there, influencing the life of a child.

And all because they were given the gift of being a teacher.

On Your Graduation…

I sit back, watching them interact in the dramatic play center, mixing up imaginary food and having fun with the farm set and dinosaur bin. Role-playing. Make-believing. Pretending. Watch them piece together chain links with number pendants to make dog leashes for the play puppies and creating Lego masterpieces in the Math and Science center. I observe their little hands fashioning airplanes and hearts and all manner of interesting creations from our well-used set of classroom Wiki-Stix. Watch them as they chatter and converse over lunch. Listen to their banter.

This thought does not escape me: how quickly these tender years fly by.

Just yesterday you too were an innocent five year old boy. Tractors and Gators and trucks and cars your preferred toy. Lego came next, followed by bikes with training wheels and soccer balls. Anything John Deere for quite some time. And oh the books. Loads and loads of books. Dog-eared copies of a few.

Where did the time fly off to?

Blink my eyes, and you are five years old. Blink again and now you’re a fine young man waiting to start the final chapter of your last three years at home.

Do you know how proud we are of who you are? Proud of who you have been and proud of who you are becoming?

Right now, you are exactly who you were meant to be, and we couldn’t love you anymore today than we already do.

The older I get, the more I am appreciating the little moments I am given. Tonight, I borrowed your coat that I had given you for Christmas, wearing it for my walk. It still strikes me strange that you are now taller than I. I will never lose the picture in my mind of you- that tiny baby boy I held in my arms nearly fifteen years ago. I remember clutching you fiercely to my chest, wanting to shelter and protect you. A mother’s shielding embrace. And now your strong arms wrap around my shoulders when I lean in for a hug. I cannot quickly adjust to this change in roles; I am now the one who looks up to you.

As you and your classmates move into this next phase of your youth, remember who you are. You all belong to someone. And you, Son, are ours: a boy born to two parents who have loved you even before you were born. When someone is loved, as are you, that someone might not realize what this privilege entails. Our love for you encompasses the following:

It promises to always provide as we are able.
Covenants to continually be involved, available and present.
Commits to see you through the tough times as well as the best.
Gives its word that it will stand by you, whatever it takes.

Just yesterday, it seems, I was a young mama waiting by the gate for a little boy to come bounding up the walkway from his first day of school.

Blink and there you were.
Blink again and here we are.

My Father’s Daughter

When I'm at my best, I am my father's daughter.

I have been blessed to know some amazing dads in my lifetime- some whose families I was born into and others to whose families I was invited.

I am forever grateful for my dad, Mark Bredin, whose love and loyal support and constant prayer means so much to me each and every day. I love you, Dad. I am glad I live close enough to visit you often. Thank you for being my dad.

Forever grateful as well for two amazing grandfather’s who were also dads themselves. Grampies have the amazing gift of loving on their grandkids like no other adult figure can. Theirs’ is the role of just pure joyful affection, minus all the hard work of child-rearing, disciplining, care-giving, chauffeuring and all the other mundane things parents have to do that complicates life so much. Grandparents are such special people, and I am so grateful for my two wonderful grampies, Mark Bredin Senior and Charles MacLean. While they now live in Heaven, I take comfort in knowing that I will someday see them both again.

I am so honored as well to have been invited to be part of a family filled with wonderful dads. When Brian Gard asked me to marry him nineteen years ago, little did I know how much I would come to admire and appreciate his relationship with his dad, Harold Gard. Brian’s relationship with his dad was so close and connected all through the years. Harold was Brian’s mentor and best friend. And so, I learned a lot about a father’s love for his son by watching Brian and his dad interact over the years. We have missed Harold’s presence tremendously this Father’s Day 2015. Someday soon, we will meet again, Grampie Gard…someday soon.

And then there’s my Husband Brian. Dad to four beautiful children. The man for whom we celebrate every Father’s Day with a full-course breakfast meal… just because he deserves it. How do I begin talking about the best father for her children a woman could ever dream of asking for? Brian is patient and kind and thoughtful and involved. I cannot thank him enough for being so perfect for the role God gave him in our lives: our Daddy.

But when I think about fathers and Father’s Day and that constant One to whom I know will never cease to abide with me. Who will always fight for me. Stay by me. Holding me, eternally: I can’t help but say thank you from a grateful heart to the Father I know who is above all. For my Father is this:

Always faithful.
Always true.
Always kind.
Always loving.
Always patient.
Always available.
Always just.
Always there.

Perfect.

And it is my desire in this life to be just like my Father- as close as a girl could come. Walking in His shadow so as to reflect the image I see. Emulating the One who loves me best. Loving others in some of the very same ways that He loves me.

Because truly when I am at my best, I am my Father’s daughter.

I always will be His daughter.

On Father’s Day: For Those With Hearts Breaking

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We pound pavement in the fading light of day. I struggle to keep step with his manly gait, his earnest stride. This is the time of evening when my fatigue catches up with me. Softly, the wind blows unruly tendrils of hair across my cheeks, and I stop to wrap my jacket around my waist- I over dressed this evening in case a chill came without warning. But instead of shivers, balmy summer sun penetrates through to my skin, warming me. I watch the road intently for cars that might not be watching as carefully as I.
While we walk, I wrack my brain to come up with something of import to say.
“What will we do for Father’s Day this year?” I ask rather suddenly.
It is valid question for those finding themselves within the week of this significant holiday. A question that begs to be asked. But when your heart is still tender from breaking, and there have merely been two weeks passed since you said last goodbyes to your own Dad, this question can leave one feeling startled by fresh tears.
There will never be a Father’s Day the same again for us. Not ever. Quite honestly, the world is now forever changed. How do you do things when the one you formerly did them for/with/to is forever gone? Can a holiday still be commemorated even when the one for whom it was meant is no longer present?
We walk and talk. Shed some tears.
And I wonder and imagine while he walks quietly.
All the while, I still hold out hope. There is always hope.
Hope for another day. Another moment. Another slice of life.
And there is still room to celebrate even in the midst of sorrow. Still room for joy expressed over a life lived with grace and love and courage and faithfulness and tenderness and loyalty and gentleness, even when the remembering brings tears. There is still room to honour a father’s influence even in his physical absence. There is still room in which to cry and laugh.
There is still room in our hearts and there always will be.
There is not a day goes by that our hearts are not moved by his memory.
We sit down by the river for a spell. We are motionless, save for the occasional slapping of a mosquito here and there. Below my feet, there are schools of tiny fish curiously weaving their way around a wooded slat. They know naught of what the worlds above them experience with loss and pain and sorrow. Farther down the river, two ducks paddle off while a heron takes flight. The natural world around us has a rhythm all its own. Everywhere is peace and quiet.
I am reminded to be still. And so I am.
Later, as we make our ascent back to the road, I am further reminded that life too must resume. But our memories of what really matters are never far from our hearts. We return to these places and spaces often so as to remember. To recall and evoke the images in our minds of those we love.
We never forget.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. And while it will be different this year, there will still be a celebration- a commemoration of all that we have been given by way of legacy, heritage, history and connection. A calling to remembrance of and for our fathers. Our cherished memories are ours to keep and treasure for a lifetime.
Our loved ones might be physically gone: but they will never be forgotten.
May all those whose hearts are breaking this Father’s Day find comfort in the knowledge that their Dad is always present in their memory.

Our fathers will forever live on- in and through- our remembrances of them.

Radical Care

I remember driving in the old Chevrolet with my Dad behind the wheel, going to pick up some kids for church when I was about 8 or 9 years old. And while my father had a compassion for the family we were connecting with, I remember that I did not. For some reason, I didn’t like the little girl belonging to this particular family. Didn’t think she smelled right, nor did I think she wore the right clothes. Just didn’t like the look of her. And I sure as heck didn’t want to go to her house and pick her up. Something about her just rubbed me the wrong way. And I got my ‘back up’. I decided she wasn’t someone I needed to be kind to.

So I wasn’t kind.

Throughout the years, I have never forgotten that girl. Never forgotten the uncalled for dismissal of her in my mind. And perhaps because of her, I now as an adult have decided to be more deliberate and intentional in my choice to show kindness.

But I have noticed something all the while and throughout this learning process: there are some people to whom it is hard for us to be kind. For whatever the reason- right or wrong. They set something off in us; and those emotions push our buttons. Or maybe it is that they don’t really like us either, and that creates a tension all its own. Perhaps it is something longstanding that has come between two people that has been left unresolved. Or maybe it is just one little hurt after another that has built up a wall of disappointment and fear.

It’s not easy being kind to those we love. How can we ever hope to be kind to those we don’t love- those we don’t care for much at all?

And why should we anyway? Do we really need to love and care for everyone in our life? Surely not our enemies. And what about our ‘frenemies’? Do they deserve our care?

Watching the news, one doesn’t have to search far to find dislike and tension between groups. Currently, around the world there are four ongoing armed conflicts that have resulted in 10,000 or more deaths in the current or past year, there are eleven armed conflicts that have resulted in 1000- 9,999 deaths in the current or past year and there are twenty armed conflicts that have resulted in 100- 999 deaths in the same time frame; seventeen with fewer than 100 deaths (Wikipedia). These stats do not take into account ongoing civil unrest or violence against protestors not resulting in armed conflict. These stats do not take into account tensions that are mounting between cultural groups in North America as well as around the world. These stats do not take into account personal conflicts or private conflicts that fall below the radar that are still disruptive and disturbing- even here in Canada. These stats don’t take into account familial and interpersonal strife.

What these stats do tell us is this: it’s hard to get along. And they give us a hint at what this world needs so as to even begin hoping for a transformation. What we need in this world is radical, transformative love.

Radical kindness. Radical love. Radical compassion. It is what we need in this world to make a change.

I write a great deal about care, kindness, love and compassion. And when I send my writing out into the larger media ring (the national news circuit) for consideration, I have found that kindness is a topic that doesn’t interest many. The response of the public readership is rather blasé. They’d rather read about something controversial, something that ignites a strong reaction. Kindness is just too sweet.

But what the world doesn’t seem to know about kindness yet is this:
“Within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That’s the thing about kindness: it seems basic. Yet its impact is astronomical. And the ways in which our interactions are affected by its absence are profound. In this life, amongst all our human relationships both intimate and otherwise, what matters beyond all else is that we are authentically kind to one another. Kind, in each and every encounter we undertake” (Gard, 2015)

It takes courage and guts and stamina and backbone and grit to be kind. Each and every day that we are given breath in our lungs. Kindness isn’t always natural like breathing. It’s far harder. It’s like grasping out to hold onto a small twig as you slide down a cliff on some days. It’s like planting your feet securely in the waters as wave after wave of salt-water impact tries to knock you over. It’s like holding up the corner of a crumbling building with your bare hands when all that is in you is telling you to let go. It’s like a storm raging overhead while you crouch beneath it, determined to ride out the rains.

No, kindness is not always easy. Sometimes it is the hardest choice you will have to make.

I still have people in my life that I am willing to admit- they are hard to be kind towards. I can also attest to the fact that I am a person in other peoples’ lives that they feel exactly the same way.

What helps me is this: I cannot control what others do/say/think about me, but I can be aware and intentional in my response to them. Because at the end of my life, when I lie on my own deathbed and time slips quickly from my hand, what matters is how I have lived my life. That’s it. And if I have lived life compassionately — with caring and kindness EVEN TO MY ENEMIES — I have done life well.

What this world needs now is love- radical love. And that loves starts right here.

Starts with me.

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Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

What People Remember Most

We are standing together, even as the long line stretches out the door, snaking around one corner and then further back into the spacious funeral home chapel. Our feet ache from our high-heeled shoes, but we are both so intent on seeing each and every person that places their warm hand into ours so as to offer comfort that we hardly notice this minor inconvenience. These traditions are a beautiful way to honor a life, and we are both so touched by the heartfelt words we have just been privy to hearing. We are so moved by the many, many words: words of comfort, words of concern and words of joy at the ways in which lives have been touched by our own dear Loved One.

Words of hope.

He was a dear husband. A beloved father and grandfather. A brother, uncle, friend; Boss and co-worker, neighbor- among many other more diverse roles. But for today, he is just Loved. Our Loved One. Each person that comes through the processional line shares a different memory with the theme woven throughout each and every sentiment of the kindness he displayed as he lived out his life. Even the funny stories bring about a torrent of tears- we are bound together by our humanity, even in our baser moments. These words- they heal us. Words mean so much.

Harold Hazen Gard.

He was a humble man. A man of the land. A hard-working man. A family man. A man of faith in the God he served. Just an ordinary man. And yet, his story reveals a life lived out of a reserve of extraordinary love, patience, kindness and caring. This is no ordinary feat.

As I stand there absorbing the impact of all these heart-warming words, she leans toward my ear and whispers these additional profoundly moving words proffered about her father: “It doesn’t matter what you did for work, what line of employment you were in; it matters how you lived your life.”

It matters. It does indeed. And within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That’s the thing about kindness: it seems basic. Yet its impact is astronomical. And the ways in which our interactions are affected by its absence are profound. In this life, amongst all our human relationships both intimate and otherwise, what matters beyond all else is that we are authentically kind to one another. Kind, in each and every encounter we undertake.

Because, Friend: here’s the thing.  Someday someone will recall back to the time you offered them a caring shoulder to lean on; will recall that you saw the best in them when no one else could find the strength. They will recall that instead of acting in anger, you acted in love; will recall that you were tender, were compassionate and merciful. They will remember you for your genuine concern about their welfare. They will remember you for your caring.

Someday, someone will recall back to your connection with them. And they will recall that you reached out to them in their time of need. They will remember that you offered them hope when they were desolate. That you extended them a warm welcome when they felt estranged. They will remember that you placed them first above their own needs. Because someday: someone will recall you. And they will either remember you for your kindness- your caring, your love, your understanding, your compassion, your mercy. Or they will not.

It’s as simple as that.

I have come to the startling realization at forty-one years of age- with two degrees and a third nearly gained; with a full-time job and many professional recommendations. With a beautiful house and acreage- and the toys and trinkets to boot. I have come to realize: none of this really matters. Because it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how high you have climbed the ladder in the corporate world- how much you have acquired. Nor does it matter how simple your expectations might be in this life. It doesn’t matter what successes your have seen to or what failures you have been prone to. At the end of your life, when you lie on your own deathbed and your loved ones are gathered round, what matters is how you have lived your life. That’s it. And if you have lived life compassionately- with caring and kindness, you have done life well.

Everyone can be kind. It’s something we all can choose to do as we live this life. We all have that available option at our disposal: the choice to show kindness. To be kind with every part of our being. Radiating love to the people we meet.

At the end of the day, it’s what people will remember most about us when we’re gone.

It’s our kindness and caring that people remember more than anything.