Here’s to loss (and the gains that follow)

Last week, we were in Florida while the rest of the Maritimes dug themselves out from another ‘white-mare’. I am sure it seems to everyone who lives here that there will never be an end to all the snowy, blizzard-y winter weather we have been experiencing over that last two months. Long range- forecasts project that things could continue into April, if things follow along on this riotous path to who knows where. What to do? Well, what our family decided to do was go south- forget our worries, cares and concerns and head to the light. To heat and warmth and sun and parks. Yes, making our way to lots and lots and lots of parks. And of course finding some water along the way, too.

One cannot do without the water in Florida.

So you would think that when you head for a reprieve from reality, that reality would just stay put and not follow you. Funny how life works- unfortunately, this isn’t how it goes down. Reality, when one is vacationing, is just the same old thing it always was- dressed up in different clothes that somehow seem prettier. And to illustrate my point, I will provide a small story.

It was our very first day at Disney. I was a little (understatement) stressed, but mostly trying to remind myself that this was suppose to be fun- because I was on vacation. And vacations are fun (HAHA). So, after getting up early (5:30 a.m.), getting everyone up on schedule and out the door on time, getting there without getting killed in the process (crazy roads) and then manouvering through the parking system, ticket office and fast-pass station without too many hitches (I nearly negated all my own tickets, but that’s another story),… I finally told myself:

“Self, it’s time to relax and enjoy this day!”

So, I took out a pack of gum while standing in line for my first ride, passed it around to our crew of six eager patrons of Disney’s Magic Kingdom and then promptly stuck a stick of gum in my mouth, choosing to chomp on my right side first (as I had just started to heal from surgery on the left side and things were still tender there).

I know you all know what happened next. It was actually something I have nightmares about- that sound of metal on enamel. It is an entirely yucky sound and feeling- and to lose a tooth at the beginning of our stay was disappointing, to say the least. I just found out this afternoon, much to my dismay, that the tooth of which I write is absolutely irreparable.

Such is life.

I tell you all this to really tell you THIS factoid: So yesterday, while we were driving home (and while I was gingerly eating snacks, carefully checking each time with my tongue swiping around my mouth so as to ensure I hadn’t lost another tooth), I heard a news report about Angelina Jolie taking preventative measures to protect herself against cancer. In light of the fact that she has had a double mastectomy along with just undergoing surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes, I started to think about my own situation- the loss of my teeth. Incredibly minor in light of Jolie’s choice to do without. And I started to think about the fact that I am not carrying any longer a full set of pearlie-whites as not so much a disadvantage, something to grieve as a loss: but rather, something to see as a gift I was loaned for a short while, and thus something I can certainly live without now that the gift is taken from me.

Yes, this requires a tremendous amount of perspective! And a little bit of imagination to boot.

Sometimes we choose to live our lives with less so that we can then live out the rest of our lives with more. And living with less does not mean that life cannot be fulfilling and purposeful. Doesn’t mean that one is necessarily worse off than they were the moment before, when they had more. Rather, living with less just means less- not bad or worse or terrible or horrific. Just less.

I have less teeth than I use to. Angelina Jolie has less parts than she use to. You might have less of something to, if you really admitted it. You see, I don’t just have fewer teeth than I use to: I also have less dark brown hair growing on my scalp (oh grey hair, you are not my fave), less elasticity in my skin, less vision and less flexibility in these ole’ muscles. I could go on…

But at this point in my life, with all the loss- I have certainly made some gains- for I have more clarity, more perspective, more perception and more insight than I ever did, even ten years ago. If losing a tooth is a trade-off for even one of those qualities, then I certainly have much to be thankful for.

So, while standing there in that line-up- while I did momentarily grieve the loss of that tooth (okay, I still lapse sometimes into a bit of sorrow), I have also realized that with this loss, I have gained moments I will forever cherish. Moments I would never get back again had I chosen to just sit there and grieve my loss. You see, the reality of this situation was: I was with my family, in a line-up (that would be the longest line-up of the day, but I digress….) at Disney and I was about to ride a roller-coaster. A roller-coaster, people!! This is something I couldn’t do over when I was finally done my pity-party. Not something I could come back to later when I was feeling better. I had to get in the groove and do it NOW. So I made a decision to just press on- and tuck that (expensive) little crown in my purse and FOR-GEDDA-BOUT-IT.

I realized right then and there- and this one thing’s for sure: there is no minimum requirement of teeth necessary for one to get on a roller-coaster and enjoy the day. And with every loss in life, there is always a gain.

So here’s to loss and the gains that follow…because there is always that predictable bit of sunshine to come after the downpour, light that shines brightly after every rain cloud disappears.

All is Grace

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The sun beckons through the glass of my kitchen windows. We are now on Daylight Savings time and the possibilities seem endless for a low-key Monday evening. I suggest a walk through the field by snowshoe and then call for the girls to resume their igloo building while I finish up a few last-minute errands. I slip on my snowshoes and climb the steep incline to the field where the girls are forming a play-fire from some branches and small evergreens twigs. It is just one of those perfect evenings made for play and whimsy.
Husband and I set out through the field with the sun behind us, the effect of which makes the landscape a tableau of brilliant white as far as the eye can see. The contours of the land are increasingly difficult to navigate and predict, and I find myself catching a snowshoe here and there, nearly tumbling face-first in a less than glamorous free-fall. I steady myself and stay the course, sinking more and more the further we advance with the softer snow drifts.
We walk back to the old tree that marks the land. It has been a marker of the passage of time, but time does take its toll. A large branch has been whiplashed by our fierce winter winds and now lies perpendicular to the stately boughs that still stretch up to the sky. I rest over the branch for a while and gaze pensively off into the distance. Husband stands beside me and we pass the moments in silence.
I find myself thinking more and more about the moments and days and months and years that are quickly passing us by. It seems like five minutes ago that Husband and I first laid eyes on one another. In truth- that moment was 23 years ago. And with two decades and a bit under our belts, you would think we must have found the secret that happy couples ascribe to so as to keep the tenderness alive, keep the fires burning. Think we’d know the answers.
In truth, marriage is hard. It doesn’t get any easier either. But then again, so is life and it doesn’t get easier either.
I read tonight of Kara Tippetts, a beautiful mama and wife who is fighting cancer- but claiming that every day is grace. I think of my own dear warrior friend Wendy Gallant who lost her battle to cancer but has left behind her incredible legacy as a wife, mama, friend, community member and influence. I feel tears fall as I think that the world will be/is emptier for the loss of women like these two. I grieve the change that the passage of seasons brings.
Kara describes death as leaving the party too early. She talks about feeling like a little girl whose Daddy has come to pick her up before the birthday party has officially ended. She says it is not that she is afraid to die- she just isn’t wanting to leave yet. I wonder if this is how my dear Wendy felt. I’m sure she would have asked for just one more day if the suggestion had been offered.
Life is so difficult to comprehend even in its raw, jagged beauty.
I turn to Husband and I wrap my arms around his solid frame. I feel that this is where I need to be right now. Right here. We embrace in the quiet solitude. All is peace. All is grace.
We fight continually for that peace and grace to hold us even as the storms of life rage around our fragile vulnerability. We are so weak- so frail. And yet there is a strength that sustains even in the midst of life’s uncertainties. There is always enough grace for the day.
Grace holds tenderly.
And that is what knits me together in this fading light of the day. That Grace. Felt in a Husband’s embrace. Whispered on the evening breeze- I will always love you- for I always have. And I always will. A Father’s grace- eternal, sustaining and unending.
And it is enough. It is more than enough.

Tell Him

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He might not bring you breakfast in bed every morning…but if he starts the coffee maker without asking, he’s a keeper.
He might not leave the sink clean, hang up the towels or remember his dirty socks; but if he has the lunches packed and ready to go- complete with each child’s likes and requests, the guy’s a keeper.
He might not clean up his crumbs, remember to hang the dish towel up to dry or do the laundry- but if the van is scraped and ready to go even before you are in it, you’ve got yourself a true gem.
He might not be a cook, a cleaner, a mopper, a walker or even a super-listener or talker: but when you need him, you know he’ll be there.
He might not be in possession of all of those elusive qualities you once thought you needed. But in time, you have come to realize that it really doesn’t matter: he is exactly what you require. He’s it- your match. And you know now that you really could not do without him, for he is perfectly suited to meet your personality and character. Made to be your other half. You were meant for each other. He and you, you and him.
And although you might not be everything that a person was destined to be either (but, hey! who’s keeping track), he loves you anyway. Loves you for who you are, how you are- exactly the way you are.
Loves you for being YOU.
And because he loves you- it doesn’t matter anymore what might have been. Could have, should have, would have been. All that matters is what it is anyway. What it is right now.
And maybe, like me- you’ve decided that what is yours as a couple is imperfectly perfect. Just the way it happens to be. Even if it might mean that LIFE isn’t perfect- that life isn’t always the way you’d like it.
What matters is the two of you. And what you’ve got is all you’ve ever needed.
Just the way it is.
Go ahead- tell him you love him. Say the words. And while you are at it, tell yourself that whether or not he remembers to throw out the trash/pick his clothes up off the floor/tidy his papers: he’s still your best friend.
Never forget how much you love him.

And chances are, (with this kind of imperfect formula in play),he’ll not forget how very much he loves you back.

Dear Student Who Feels Defeated

To The Student That Feels Defeated,

You are sitting there at a table or a desk- you might be reading, writing or maybe working at something else, depending on the given day. You look up and catch the teacher glancing your way; so you try to show her with your eyes that ‘this just isn’t making any sense’. Try to send her that message. Because it’s just a mystery to you that people understand this stuff. A complete puzzle.

You watch your friends who find it so easy- math, writing, reading, problem-solving, figuring things out. They seem to do everything so effortlessly. But to you, each task just feels like one, long endless riddle- with no apparent solution.
Feels like one long, drawn-out visit to the orthodontist.

Or maybe it’s during gym class that you find things challenging. Maybe it’s music or science or French that throws you off your game. Maybe it’s after-school when you are at basket-ball or soccer or another extra-curricular club that you find yourself not measuring up to the rest of your teammates. Maybe that’s when you start to find your confidence slipping. Maybe that’s when you feel like you can’t compete.

Maybe it’s more to do with fitting in and finding friendship, or it’s that feeling of acceptance in being part of the crowd. That’s what you are missing. Maybe you just feel like you are the odd-one-out left to stand awkwardly watching from the sidelines. The person who never gets a call after school, a text or an invitation to the group chat.

And so you get home at the end of each school day and you sit at the table with a bowl of cereal and a glass of chocolate milk. And you try to make sense of the fact that you feel stupid/unliked/unpopular/incapable- while the rest of the world does not. While the rest of the world just keeps moving on. Understanding everything that you do not, doing everything you can not, and including those people around you of whom you are not- while you’re left standing on the outside.

It feels like everyone else is accomplishing stuff while you watch on helplessly, feeling useless. And while life just continues carrying on, you feel more and more defeated. More and more deflated. Cause it feels like you are the only one falling back, falling behind. Even while everyone else in the world is occupied with ‘getting ahead’- making sense of the world and everything in it. Yet meanwhile, for you- it all just feels so difficult. Life feels so hard.

And you feel so stupid.

Dear Student who feels this way, can I please tell you that you most definitely are not?

Not stupid.
Not dumb.
Not unintelligent.
Not brainless.
Not unloveable.
Not incapable.
Not a failure.

You are not.

True, you are struggling with this hard thing in your life- this mountain that seems to consume you. But one day soon, it will no longer be there. You will have climbed and conquered. And you will then be free to see life another way, from a different vantage point. One day soon you will look behind you and see that this mountain was just a small anthill. Something so small from your position, that it will almost seem insignificant in hindsight. And you will turn your eyes back around after seeing that you made it over, and see that before you is what you were waiting for all along. See that you arrived. That’s the beauty of moving forward.

Because right now, you are in the middle of living out the battle. Life is hard because it is suppose to be sometimes- it’s suppose to be hard at this time and place in your life. And quite honestly, life is hard because there are hard things to go through, hard things to understand, hard things to figure out. But these hard things are making you, shaping you, creating in you: perseverance, resistance, resolve, determination, strength and will power. For in living out the hard stuff, we come to see ourselves in different ways- realizing that the moments when life is at its very hardest are often the moments and the times when we grow and ‘become’ the best. Your time of becoming your best self is right now.

Don’t give up on that vision.

Yes, your hard time might be now. But tomorrow is already on the way, almost here. And just like every time before, you can do this. Just look how far you’ve already come. You can accomplish what you set your heart on. So go ahead- prove it to yourself.

Never forget, I’ve got your back. The rest is in your capable hands.
Never stop believing.
You are capable, you are able.
You are.

Love,
Your Teacher

Does Being Average Make you Happier?

We are finishing up supper when a knock comes to the door. It is a family friend and acquaintance that we recently hired to construct a bookshelf for us just arriving for a quick check-in about a piece he’s already built. He wonders if it fits okay over the radiator. It does. In fact, it’s a perfect fit.

Earlier this month, this gentleman arrived in the middle of supper hour and spent the better part of the evening talking to both Husband and I about our dreams for our family room. What were we wanting him to fashion as an entertainment unit to house our most beloved pictures, books and games? At what level would we want our entertainment system to be set? What style should the framework be? What vision did we have?

As we talked, it became increasingly clear that this man cared a great deal about his work- and even more so, cared about our ideas, our thoughts and opinions. To illustrate my point, he had talked to Husband about some additional thoughts he had for this unit on the Sunday past- proving to me that if we were paying him for his time, we’d owe him for the incredible amount of thought he’s invested in considering our best options. You don’t get this kind of service from the box stores. To have him drive from town this evening for a five-minute drop-in just to check whether the piece he was building fit neatly in place, meant a lot.

In fact, it’s priceless in MasterCard terms.

Some might say that everyday people such as our retired friend who make furniture for pleasure- such as you or I, us plain-folk people: some might say we are not the ones that make this world turn. Not the ones who are the real movers and shakers. I read a quote about mediocrity lately and it said that being average should be feared- should push us to our limits, causing us to reach our true potential. Whatever that means.

To be honest, some of the most average people in my life have made the biggest impact. We don’t remember the chance encounters we have with celebrities (if we have them at all) nor do we chalk up as the most life-changing, the brief glimpses into the world of the extraordinary as the part of life that we could not live without. It is the average, everyday people and pleasures of life that we count as life’s greatest blessings.

After my last two posts on being average, I decided to share an article I found on-line and read called “The joy of being average” found at “http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2014/03/13/the-joy-of-being-average/  In the article, the author Sam expounds on the joys of being average, highlighting such benefits to life as lowered expectations, more safety, more happiness, less restrictions, more freedom, less pressure, among other benefits. In the article, he poses the question: should we continuously try to live up to our potential? Sam concludes that ‘no’, we should not feel that pressure- it is ours to choose how we live our lives, how we use or don’t use our potential.

I contend: there is joy in acceptance as well. I feel that in accepting that our lives are short, fragile and fleeting helps us to put perspective on things. Who are we really trying to impress? What really matters? What are the most important things in life? What decisions are the most crucial?

What really makes the difference?

Celebrity, both at local, regional, national and international levels, as enticing as it might look and seem, is just a mirage. The people behind the celebrity still have to get up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.  They still live and die. And so do we.

The question should not be based on how to live up to one’s truest potential but rather focused on perspective: how can I live my life with joy and contentment? Gratitude and grace? And what non-essentials can I eliminate so that I don’t miss the boat and waste this one chance I have at truly living life well?

Being average isn’t a wasted opportunity, a shameful decision.  Living simply is not to squander one’s life; but chasing after dreams that are only a mirage certainly are.  Life is beautiful- even when it is average, ordinary and simple, and living an average life is more than admirable when we can do so with joy and contentment. When we choose to embrace the life we’ve been given, average isn’t ordinary.

It’s amazing. Truly amazing.

Average is Beautiful

I scroll daily through Facebook feeds, stalling for time in between work and school-related tasks, and every time I do, I come across compelling viral articles that are just breaking about ordinary people saying interesting things about their ordinary, everyday lives. It seems that much of what we attend to these days is not so much concerned with celebrity (while still a preoccupation, this is true); but more and more stories are geared to the every day in life.  We are somehow compelled to listen to the average person telling their story in intriguing ways. And we are interested in the telling of that story if it is done in such a way that champions the right of the individual to live their life in average, ordinary ways.

In other words, we are increasingly fascinated by people who are ordinary and embrace this fact articulately through the written word.

Take the story that recently went viral about Joni Edelman, the mother of five, who recently wrote an article titled “Being Thin Didn’t Make Me Happy, But Being “Fat” Does.” Edelman writes the article stating her happiness in being quite average- average as in being in line with the rest of the parenting populace in North America who have had their babies and are now living life with kids in tow (eating on the run). Her article defends her right to be overweight and happy as compare to being thin and constantly concerned with her image and the accompanying public perception. It seems that in allowing her weight to rise, Edelman gave up her preoccupation with being above-average. Gave up her obsession with being extraordinary.
In other words, she is now a woman who embraces her every-day, average ordinariness with absolute joy and acceptance.

In another story, this time written by a girl to her former male colleague and friend, the author also defends her ordinariness in an open letter. She writes about a lunch date with this guy from her summer job in which, upon sitting down at the table to eat, he immediately tells her she “looks like crap.” The author, toward the end of the viral article writes the following words:
“I don’t wear much makeup these days. I like the feel of my skin when it’s bare; I take good care of it. I like that I can rub my eyes whenever I want, and my lashes don’t get tangled when they’re not caked with mascara. My hair gets frizzy sometimes, especially when it rains. I still have mild acne and scars from years of picking, when it used to be a lot worse. My cheeks are perpetually red, and my under-eye area dark. And it’s okay.

The world can see me as I am. I am raw, I am exposed, and society can take it all in. Go ahead and assess. Maybe I’m a one out of five. In my book, I’m a 10 out of 10.”

What is all this telling us about our the average person living life out in our current western culture?

Well, maybe average is enough. And maybe even more than this, it is perfectly okay to be ordinary and embrace life as it is, how it is, for what it is. After all, average is beautiful; and it is normal, people. It is what most of us are characterized by on any given day- days that are not-so-perfect as well as days when the sun is shining and life is beautiful. And days that are everything else in between.

There is no shame in being average: average is enough.

And average is Beautiful.

On Being Average {And Why it is Enough}

I watch her spin and turn like a beautiful, diminutive jewellery box dancer, her hair drawn up tightly in the plaited bun that I had so quickly fashioned before we left early on a bright Saturday morning. I try to capture her on the screen I hold up to the glass (for the benefit of Husband who is doing rink duty at another venue later on this day), and finding that inadequate for my venture, reach up further in between the netting to manoeuvre an angle. In trying to find the perfect vantage point, I am disappointed to see that I have missed her sit-spin. Boo. My arm is cranked at a weird angle, but this is a mother’s work: to film her baby. And to do so ‘at.all.costs’ (to her physical comfort). I train my eyes so as to not miss another thing. Daughter is my sole focus of attention. I am all eyes for her.

Later, we await results. She informs me that she has done better this year, saying it with a confident grin- a lilt in her voice. She is so eager to get her ribbon that she bounces.  I watch her chat and kid with the other skaters, not a care in the world.

Then the moment arrives. Her name is called and she is the first in her group to come forward. I continue to monitor her face for any sign of disappointment. For now, all appears well. But she has not yet had time to process and compare- to find her standing. Somehow, things change when we measure ourselves up alongside others. At least that has been my experience.
She soon takes her seat. Hands the paper over to me. And I continue to watch and wait. In time, when all the results are in, I will know better what to expect.

And then it happens.

In finding out that she has not exceeded her own highly set expectations for herself, as well as not matched those of her cohort of fellow skaters, all comes quickly crashing to the ground. I watch her fight to hold back tears as she receives the full impact of her report. Watch intently as she compares results with the others. I feel it in me- that disappointment and loss. For loss, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant it might be in the scheme of life, is still loss.

It is still a small blow to the ego.

Later, we talk over lunch. She and I, pondering life from across a coffee shop table. I order her a blueberry muffin for dessert, hoping it will cheer her up, and all the while, I try to find the right words to tell her that she is still amazing in my books. Try to find words that will affirm how well she has done. Try to help her see. I want so badly for her to be proud of herself- not just when she is a gold, but when she is also a bronze or a merit as well. And above all, I want her to never give up no matter what the results. Want her to stay the course. Want her to never measure her worth against a piece of paper.

I listen to my heart and let it do the talking, while the mama voice inside of me insists that it still wants to make everything that feels wrong- somehow become right. Even though everything inside me just wants to gather her up in my arms and shout out to the world just how golden she is in my eyes. Just how precious she is to me. Just how much I believe in her potential. In the messy process, I somehow find the words to say. Find the right words. And I choose those words carefully- making the most of this opportunity so that she can truly see that there is always something to be proud of, always something to learn, and always something to strive for just ahead- out of reach, just out of immediate grasp.  It’s there.

Even when life hands you a paper that  shouts out ‘average‘.

I want her to know: an average performance or routine, while always good enough for this Mama, is no statement about who she is. Besides, average can be enough period, if we let it. In fact, it’s better than enough. Every experience can be memorable for the right reasons- if we purpose it to be so.  For in remembering both the times we’ve failed, as well as the times we’ve succeeded, we learn something new about ourselves, about our life. And the beauty of remembering is that there is always something to take-away from the memories of both experiences, no matter how humbling the former can be. There is always something to use for our benefit, no matter how much that experience might bruise the pride or wound the ego.

There is always something good to be had if we are willing to reach for it.

As I watch my daughter’s face, I know in my heart that we all can’t be winners. Can’t all take away the prize each and every time. Someone has to be first- and someone always has to be last as well. It’s the way things go- it’s the fact of the matter. That’s life. And when finding our place on the losing end, it is tempting to believe that losing is bad, tempting somehow to convince ourselves that losing is shameful and disappointing. It is tempting to fall privy to the belief that ‘not winning’ too is blameworthy somehow, so easy to fall into that line of thinking that asserts: we who have lost are somehow no longer adequate because of our rank and file. Because of our place value and status.

But of course, there is no failing in trying. No loss in second, third or even last place when one has given their best. No shame in being average, for after all, average is quite beautiful, quite normal and quite honestly what most of us are characterized by on any given day- days that are stormy as well as days when the sun is shining and life is beautiful.

Average is enough.

We can celebrate each moment and make it into something bigger and brighter and more beautiful than it was meant to be, or we can believe that failure is a sign of inadequacy.  I choose to hope against hope that there is always tomorrow, there is always another opportunity. There is always another chance to say ‘yes’ again and give life another go.

And if that is what average looks like on a good day, I’ll take it.

I watch her throughout the day- mama bear protective.  And when second and third results come up later on in the afternoon, I wonder how she will feel. And then to see the accepting, content look on her face when she places middle of the pack is priceless. In fact, it’s golden.

For this mama, that’s the moment her star shone the brightest today.