When We Care for One Another

My two kiddos are playing a game of catch in the small space that is our camping site. We are sandwiched in between two large R.V.’s causing our own hardtop to dwarf in comparison. As I sit by a dwindling campfire chatting with my parents, I watch the baseball they are throwing inch ever closer to the couple sitting out by their fire pit right next to our site. As luck would have it, the ball bounces and flies past Son rolling along until it hits ‘said camper-neighbors’ fire pit. “Thank goodness that is all that was hit” is my first thought immediately followed up by “get that darn ball out of here.” I am instantly horrified, as I am sure is Son (who hates any attention drawn to himself). I get up and make the immediate suggestion (order) that the kids can move their game somewhere else.

They quickly oblige with nary an argument.

Strangely, the couple laugh the whole incident off. “Let the kids play,” says the gentleman, his wife adding the little tidbit that this reminds her of her own children when they were young. While I am comforted by the fact that no offence has been taken to this close call, I still use my good judgement and gently shoo the kids along. Later, I take them to an area at our campground better suited to throwing around baseballs: a wide, open field. We make it a whole family event and no one is left worse for the wear: emotionally or physically.

On my way back from the latter game (which we ended up playing until it was too dark to see the ball), I am walking back on my own down a darkened road when I hear the excited voices of children on bicycles behind me. It becomes immediately clear that I am about to be overtaken by some fast-riding bikers. I don’t dare turn or make any sudden movement lest I am knocked off my feet. Sure enough: three young boys come right up to my back and one after the other, zoom past me coming within inches of my frame. Not a word is spoken by either them or me, no warnings- nothing, and I am a little shaken as I realize: had I stepped over an inch or so in either direction, somebody would have been seriously hurt.

And that ‘someone’ would not just have been me either.

Teaching kids about care means more than just happy-go-lucky feelings on a summer’s afternoon. It’s not just about living life the PollyAnna way. Why caring and its counterparts- compassion, concern, interest and responsibility matter in everyday life is because people like to be treated as if they matter. As if they are worth the while thinking about and considering.

When children, kids and young people are taught and mentored to look out for other people, treating everyone as if they are someone of value, everyone benefits. Not the least of which- them. Because what goes around, comes around eventually. Besides, people who look out for others are just plain easier to live with, kinder, nicer and more thoughtful. It matters that kids learn to care- because lessons of caring spill into their lives at large, influencing little and big decisions they make each and every moment of the day.

I do not tell these stories to point fingers at others nor to gloat about my own offspring. Actually, I tell these stories to myself as proof that teaching the young to care is of utmost importance to me as an adult. Someday my world will be greatly influenced by the very ones I am educating today. How that world ends up- what it will look like- depends largely on the lessons those same little and big people learned today.

I want to share a story that a reader named Shirley wrote recently on my blog:

I had a favorite teacher, Mrs. Stewart 6th grade. There were so many life lessons that year. The greatest one was probably not really a part of the curriculum. Mrs. Stewart taught us about ice safety especially when it came to skating on lakes & ponds. Not really something most teachers would add to the class day. My neighbors did not receive the same lessons. One day the neighbors whole family went ice skating with my family. The girls skated too close to the area where the geese were swimming. The ice broke under my friend, there were no adults close by. They were on the other side of the pond, at least a football field away. What to do, what to do?! Thank you Mrs. Stewart! That day you saved from friend. It was only because you cared enough to teach us about ice safety and how to react. I laid down on the ice like you taught us, than reached out my arms as far as they would go. My friend stopped going under water and started to climb out of the ice water. You see Mrs. Stewart cared about us as people and taught us life lessons.

I share that particular story to illustrate the following point: teaching kids to care about life and the others who are part of those ‘lives’ actually takes the focus off the individual- the “I” (so that they are not always looking out primarily for ‘number one’) and places that attention and concern on the others who inhabit their world. We are not islands; learning to care about others helps us to realize that we need one another. And at times, we need to put our own interests on the back-burner so as to look after each other. So as to protect one another and care for our neighbor. In the end, learning to care for others can accomplish great things- not the least of which is saving a person from small and great injury.

It has actually even be proven to save lives.

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Why We Care

She slouches on the vinyl chair next to mine, chewing her lip, twirling her hair. Wrinkles creasing her brow. And as she sits, I wonder.  Is she thinking of what to expect, even as she knows the reason for why we are here? Or is there more to the wonder than mere childlike speculation?

The reason for why we have left the house at such a crazy-early hour to drive for two hours was not, of course, to only sit and wait. We are here for other more pressing concerns. And yet, there is always the fear of the great unknown- especially for a child.

Not to mention of course the apprehension it brings the mother.

The doctor arrives with a bluster of energy and vigour. She immediately puts at ease what was formerly a worry. What was moments ago a source of stress, a source of concern, is now an afterthought in light of this physician’s delightful presence. She just seems to do this work so naturally- without a thought to the magic she has achieved. Weaving a tapestry of compassion through her laid-back banter, silly jokes and thoughtful concern. But then again: doesn’t care always have that gentle way of easing, of lessening the burden? And as the moments tick toward the hour we will spend in this tiny little room, I find my daughter relaxing. Find her unwinding, creased brow giving way to a smile. And all this because a doctor has chosen to spend this hour in this room with us, taking the time needed to care for the person, rather than merely just diagnosing the patient.

If a busy doctor, bound by the relentless expectations and constraints that often define this demanding profession, can make the time to show caring, compassionate concern, so might we do much of the same in the field of education.

It is not a matter of should- it is a matter of how.

How can we invest in the lives of our students in caring, compassionate ways even as the demands around us increase exponentially?

We can and we must, and one way I propose this can be done is through investing in care. That is, making it a priority to value the person that is the student- along with the tandem idea of valuing the people as a whole which comprise our classroom community. Through valuing and giving worth to the human beings that represent the education system in which they are found, we give credence to the humanity of the students. We recognize the person-hood of each boy and girl, man or woman who sit in front of us day after day. And this- all achieved by seeing though the test scores, records and data to the very real hearts and souls of the children and teenagers that we are called to teach. Taking the time to know the story of their lives instead of reducing them to a number and figure on paper. Taking the time to understand the context in which the students we learn alongside- live, work and play. For when this happens, we can fully care for our students in their learning, development and growth even while the system might appear to breath heavy down our necks. After all, if we sacrifice care on the altar of academic standards of excellence, haven’t we lost everything?

Standards mean little if the people that represent them are dehumanized.

Who We Are

It is hard to understand the whys and hows of human relationships. Sometimes these interactions astound and touch my deepest parts for their tremendous propensity to kindness. And yet sometimes they disappoint beyond what mere words can express.

Why are our connections with one another so prone to such wild swings of the pendulum?

For here we are, all just walking around inside our little outward shell, thin veneer- pretending to be brave when we don’t always feel brave. Pretending to be strong when we don’t always feel strong. Putting on our game face even when the game is over. Showing up even when we don’t have the strength to take another step. We are all, I believe, giving this ‘here and now’ our best shot- this moment, this day, this life. We are who we are- cover-ups, disguises, masks and all. Doing what we have to so as to keep our head above water, to stay afloat. And it’s a hard-knock life sometimes. Hard enough trying to get by without having another soul, another Body: push you over. Knock you down. Hard enough trying to be a person living through the day without having another soul, another Body step all over you. Rain on your parade.

Isn’t it high time we gave each other a chance?

Is it so hard to see ourselves, our weakness- as through viewing our brother’s face? So hard to see our own proclivity to sorrow by looking in our sister’s eye?

She orders a coffee and a chicken sandwich for her husband. And all the while, she is given the five-star treatment by the waitress on duty. No request denied, no favor spared. She is Chosen. Somehow, special. But when it comes to him- he who is different, suddenly the mood alters. The temperature drops or so it seems. He who is seen as ‘other’ is disdained, disparaged, despised. She wonders, as she waits for the remainder of her order: why? Why him? Why her? Why such vast discrepancy? Why is she singled out to receive the good and he left to suffer the mockery, the subtle abuse? Why such different treatment when the same blood that courses through her veins, pumps slow and steady through his also?

Are we that blind that we can no longer see each other for who we truly are?

And who are we anyway? Who were we made to be?

We were made to be His Beloved. Loved, cherished, held, treasured. Longed for by the Father and precious in His sight. And when He sees us, He sees the beauty in the workmanship, the exquisite detail in the masterpiece. He sees us for the value and worth and tremendous significance we were designed for.

Each one of us.

And He doesn’t judge us for the fading shell without, that holds us.  Piece by fragile piece.  That damaged armor we wear to protect, we put on so to endure.  Doesn’t judge us for our persona.  Our outward presentation- He just loves us.  Loves us for the lasting treasure we are within.

And because He loves us, we too can love. Wildly, unabashedly, freely- with abandon.

We are free to love each other.

We are Loved.

My Five Wishes for the Upcoming School Year

It’s August. And as it happens to be my holidays, I am knee-deep in summer lovin’. I have paint spatters on my legs from the fresh coat I applied to the veranda this afternoon, a good book waiting for me on the couch and the idea in my head of a glass of iced coffee just waiting for me to drink it. Thoughts of school, teaching and work might be a million miles away from my immediate consciousness.

But are they?

As a teacher, this time of the year is one where my mind drifts to ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’. To possibilities. Summer is the time of year when teachers are finally afforded the TIME in which to breathe, take stock and think about what is yet to come. So while I am not ready to cash in on summer yet, here are a five wishes I have for the upcoming school year, set to start in a few short weeks.

1. I wish for this upcoming school year that we as teachers act on the principle that education be not only about the mind. It be about the person. That is, the whole person. I love what Nel Noddings has to say on the topic:

“…school, like the family, is a multipurpose institution. It cannot concentrate only on academic goals any more than a family can restrict its responsibilities to, say, feeding and housing its children. The single-purpose view is not only morally mistaken, it is practically and technically wrong as well, because schools cannot accomplish their academic goals without attending to the fundamental needs of students for continuity and care” (Noddings, 2005, p. 63).

What Noddings is saying here is that school must function in continuity for the purpose of caring for students as whole persons, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge. Students have minds, yes- but they also have souls and bodies which both require care and attention in the course of the day, along with caring for the student’s mind for academic, physical, emotional and relational pursuits. My wish is for educators to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information. The possibilities for growth and development are endless.

2. There is a lot of wasted time in school. Time wasted before school while waiting for all the buses to arrive, time wasted in line-ups, in wait time, in coming and going places. Another wasted time of day is lunch time. Sure, it gets used for eating and sustenance- but wouldn’t it be great if lunch time was an opportunity for growing community, in the very same ways that those families who see it as a priority use it to grow family attachments? What I am talking about, and this is another one of Noddings’ beliefs as well- is the importance of mealtime. Breaking bread in the very real sense of the word. Mealtime is a time to talk and listen, a time to discuss and reflect. A time for sharing and caring. A time when what is said is not evaluated and assessed- but taken at face value and respected. If students were given this opportunity, to sit face-to-face, as might a family eating a meal together, how might that benefit in a positive way the dynamics of social interactions amongst students? We’ll never know until we give it a try.

3. There is very little choice for students in school- very little choice for teachers either. We have all been given the required curriculum and asked to adopt it as our own. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if students and teachers were able to work together to come up with themes and pursuits that might reflect curriculum ideals, using them as springboards for further areas of study and exploration. Using curriculum jazzed up with a healthy dose of imagination, critical thinking and creativity to make these extra-curricular projects work within the existing structure? I think the sky is certainly the limit for those who give it a chance. Who knows what new interests might be sparked for learning amongst students who are currently disenfranchised, disengaged and disempowered. The time is now for outside the box thinking and teaching..

4. My wish for teachers and students is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day, standing beside us at our desks, walking along in front of us or behind us in the hallways- each person going and coming in the hustle and bustle: each person is a person. A person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains. They are a person with more than meets the eye. And I wish for all those who find themselves in the educational milieu, that is MY HOPE would be, that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools: the humanity of the students, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, the administration and any visitors that might find themselves walking through the hallways. May we always be known as a People that care. And may that define each and every one of us this year.

5. And as a final note- may we have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to play? Time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to doodle, and draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest and time to work. And may we never forget that learning is a life-time pursuit. We don’t want to burn out the creative fires until the very last embers of life have been snuffed out, when we find ourselves breathing our last. May we always be found learning each and every day of our life- and may it be a joyous, delightful, exciting, inspiring and worthwhile venture.

These five are among my wishes for you all- for we are all learners. And for those of us who call ourselves teachers, staff and students, as we set off in another few short weeks for another voyage, another adventure of learning, wonder and discovery: let’s not forget to take care of each other in the process.

Carry on, comrades!

{You can read this again on the Huffington Post by clicking on this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/back-to-school-2014_b_5656507.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-living }

 

Satisfied

I am running up the uneven and worn sidewalk blocks, grass growing up between them. Frost from past winter’s freeze has shifted and changed their original direction. Water soaks the ground beneath my feet, splashing up and over the sides of a rather closely situated water slide. I run towards the entry point high above so that I too might ride, running towards the staircase as if I am ten years old again. Ten years old: just like my Sarah who made this milestone today at exactly 6:26 p.m. this very evening. I race up the slope towards the inclined steps that lead to two rather small and well-used waterslides. Small but perfect- that’s my view. These waterslides: ‘just right’ for the forty-year old woman who believes she just might have a ten-year old heart. Perfect for me.

And oh! the exhilaration. To stretch one’s body in pike position and feel the speed. The water beneath and the wind above. Yes, for some it might be a small thrill. But for me, I am just satisfied. Satisfied! With this. All of this. This day and the juxtaposition of special and mundane. This weather, a mix of rain and sun. This park, this place, these people.

I’m satisfied.

Satisfaction. It’s a form of contentment. A feeling of being fulfilled. It is an experience of pleasure, happiness and joy. A state of being gratified. Grateful for what one has, whatever that “what’ might happen to be. Grateful for the small- grateful for the vast. It is a sentiment that calls one to give thanks for the gifts ones has been given, seeing the gift in the ordinary simplicity of everyday life. Feeling satisfied with commonplace, everyday pleasures. Commonplace, everyday blessings. When we are no longer able to feel satisfied, something happens. We start feeling ungrateful. Unappreciative. We start looking around, noticing that what we have is less than what others might have- not as special and unique as what someone else has in their possession beside us or next to us. We start evaluating our stuff, our things, our situation, our people- on the basis of what we see around us. We place unfair expectations on the gifts we’ve been given, unwisely wanting them to be something they were never meant to be. And then, there is a feeling of desire that ensues. Desire that craves something more, something bigger, brighter, better, bolder. Something beyond.

It’s a nasty cycle. And it can lead to darker places by the name of Greed and Envy and Jealousy and Dissatisfaction. Trust me, I’ve been there. They are not places you’d wish to visit.

We all know our vulnerabilities. Our area of weakness. It’s how we shift our thinking so as to make our response one of satisfaction, one of sweet contentment rather than one of discontentment and irritation. This is what that determines our joy.

And what a difference a day can make.

Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling frustrated. I was not happy with anything- the state of my house, the state of the day’s affairs, the people around me, the fact that it was August. I mean August: the summer might as well just end RIGHT NOW, now that August has arrived. Am I right?

And no. Nothing made any difference. I was just miserable. The more I thought about how miserable I was, the more miserable things were. I found bugs in the beds (seriously? Gross me out the door), dirt on the floors (okay, so this is every day, all day), clutter on every conceivable living space in my house (ditto). I couldn’t seem to get out of the kitchen for the life of me, one project led to another and then to another and so on. By noon, I was hot, sweaty and tired. I felt a headache coming on. And I was just ready to throw in the towel.

I might have thrown in the towel. There have been a lot of towels going through my washing machine lately. But at the end of the day, I went to bed, only to wake up again this morning. And I discovered something. I have a lot to be thankful for in this little house of mine. This little world I call my own.

What a difference a day makes.

Nothing in my environment really changed with the dawning of this new day. Same house, same mess, same people. It’s just that here we are together again- in this brand new beautiful day. We are alive, we are together…and we’re here. And what’s not to love about a fresh start? This is not to say that feeling frustrated and discouraged is wrong or shameful. It’s just to say that it is not really much fun. It’s actually depressing. And so I choose today- joy. Joy, and peace and contentment. I choose to see all that I have as the gift it is, rather than as the burden it might seem to be. I choose to see what I have been given as delight rather than trouble. And in so doing, I find myself feeling more and more content.

In so doing, I find myself satisfied.

So today, I am satisfied for the fact that I found no bugs in my bed. Score. Satisfied again because I wasn’t baking anything today- I bought a store-bought cake for precious Sarah- and she loved every bite of it. Score again. And I got to race my Husband and beat him FOUR TIMES ON THE WATERSLIDES. Score, score score. And they say that three times is a charm.

It all is- it’s all a gift. And for all this and so much more- I’m satisfied

Why I need my kids

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I stand beside her, tipping the muffin tray ever so slightly so that the batter will have that much more of a chance of making it into the hollow. She is intent on her task: lifting two ‘full-to-running-over’ spoons dripping with banana cupcake batter up and over the side of the porcelain bowl, toward the final destination- the muffin tray. It is tedious work, requiring a steady hand.

“I don’t need you to hold the bowl,” she says more than once. I do not concede her the victory on this one, and so we continue to work side by side. I believe she needs me. She, one just learning this art of food preparation; albeit, I will admit that each time she takes on a culinary project, that much more competence is shown in her attention to detail. Even so, I stay- diligently by her side until every last rounded chamber has been filled with creamy goodness.

We are finishing off one cupcake tray and sending it to the hot oven to bake, when she turns and says to me, “You do the rest- I am baked out.” Which is to say, she’s had enough. And so, the Little One who didn’t need me moments before now suddenly discovers that she indeed does need me to immediately finish up her task. As I am her Mama and I love her dearly, I bow to her request. She needs me.  I intuitively know this, meaning I am ever at the ready to step in when she needs a helping hand.

I don’t mind being needed.

Yes, I am still in that stage of life- where I am needed.  Although this stage is seemingly passing quickly, like sand in an hourglass. This shifting stage wherein I find myself: a time of life when I feel the pull, the tug- of little hands. Little voices calling out, “Mommy?” Little cries. And then again, big cries sometimes too. Even the Big Ones need their mother. The steady constant in my life at present is that these little (and not-so-little) people in my life are always in need of a mother’s touch. A mother’s hand, her patient reassurance. I am needed, even in this evolving phase of motherhood. Even as the years move at lightning speed toward these uncertain years ahead of parenting, where I know I will find myself meeting new needs, new requests. Where I will find myself being needed by my Fearless Four in new and different ways.

As the years press on, I am coming to see that I need them too. I need my children. This care that I have given them- it sometimes aches for something back. The returns are there- I am reminded daily to keep my eyes open to see them, my hands at the ready to receive them. But I am aware: I need them as much as they need me.

I need my kids.

This afternoon, I was feeling pressed. I had twenty coming for a birthday supper and by 3:00 p.m., I knew I was either going to have to tear myself in half or invent an assistant. Daughter hopped into the van for a ride up to the dollar store to buy the necessities (plus a treat for her- of course) and on the ride back, I asked her to help me with a certain task for which I knew I would not have time to do otherwise. She agreed. The job: to decorate our log cabin for her brother’s birthday get- together. I handed her a bag and did not place any expectations on her one way or the other. As I drove away from the cabin and towards our house to prepare the meal, I regretted that I had not given her any string to hang the balloons.

Whatever would be would be.

Upon my return, I loaded up my arms with food and assorted other items, then walked the few short steps it took to take me into our cabin to unload. My eyes caught sight of the party center which my daughter had undertaken to prepare in my absence. And I was immediately taken aback. Not only had she decorated- she had arranged things far more neatly and tidily than I would have ever thought to do. A banner hung over the table, balloons graced the fireplace mantle. She had arranged candy on the table as party favours. The table was set with a brand new tablecloth and cutlery was sitting in cups ready for the taking. It was all arranged and displayed beautifully, again- more attractively than I would ever have taken the time for. And all this, from a daughter who had initially stated her uncertainty to take on such a task.

She had no idea how much I needed this.  Needed her.  And I wonder, do our children know how very much we need them?

We assume as parents our role is to be the providers, the caretakers. The ones who meet the needs. But if we never allow our children to take on this role, how will they one day be able to care for the significant others in their future lives? Forget the future- our children must also learn to care in the here and now, for there is value in coming to care for others even in the present. No child is ever too small to care. Our children from a very young age need to know what it means to take care of another’s needs, for the sheer value of contributing to those people in their lives at present as well to prepare them for one day being the caregiver themselves to those dependents they will ultimately responsible for.

I think children are born for this. Born to care. A newborn gurgles and coos in adoration at the sound of their mother’s voice. This is a responsive gesture, acknowledging the relationship that is being built between parent and child. Without that coo, that giggle or smile, the mother can easily find her own resources drained. We need our babies love and response- it is what keeps us going in those fragile first days when exhaustion threatens to undo us. A toddler’s little arms are made for hugging, for reaching out and stroking hair, lovingly caressing their loved one’s face. Their little bodies crave the physical touch- it is their way of meeting the need of their parent- a need to be loved in the best three-year old way that child knows how, love shown through touch. And as children grow, there are so many ways they can learn to say ‘I love you’- love letters and notes left hidden under a pillow, simple words of thanks, unspoken gratitudes expressed by a wink or a nod. These are all ways children learn to show care- things parents need and crave and desire in our relationship with our kids. So that we can sustain our own caring back to them.

We need these gestures as parents- they carry us through these long days that challenge and tire us. Because let’s face it: parenting is a tough gig. Parents are always giving. Always offering more and more of ourselves. Always sacrificing and placing our childrens’ needs first. And so we should. But sometimes we need to learn to receive a little- for the benefit of our children.

So that they can learn to care.

Because at the end of the day, when our children are enabled to give back, are enabled to learn how to care because we as parents afforded them the exquisite opportunity of experiencing the blessing, they are then given a blessing in return. The blessing of caring for another.

Truly, what greater human blessing can we give our children than this?

Walking humbly

I knew I had to do it- even last night as twilight gave way to darkness. But the frustration was still close to the surface. The feelings. And I found a myriad of reasons to explain my behavior, to ease the sting of my wrong done. Somehow, peace just would not come and so it was, I found myself wrapping my arms around her this morning, hugging her tight. I apologized then- for the way I handled my frustration last night. For what I did unkindly, in the heat of a moment. I asked her for forgiveness. And she offered it, freely. The ones we love the most are the ones we hurt the most frequently. And sometimes we forget that in offering those two little words ‘I’m sorry’ backed by heartfelt meaning we find the perfect way- the only peace-filled way in which to live, love and practice the art of forgiveness (that ancient art of letting go and loving wholly).

Forgiveness is a well-worn path leading to love.

Recently, I was ‘somewhere’ with our family. I am going to try to keep this vague so as to protect anonymity. Namely mine. I happened to be walking away from the washroom when I came across a person from my past whom I have not been able to speak to nor face up to for years due to a history of hurt between that person and my immediate family. There is a history here that goes back far with turbulent waters that run deep. There have been wrongs done, words spoken, vengeance taken. On both sides of the fence, perhaps- depending on whom you talk to. And over the years, I have believed that I had released the burden of offense that this person (and the persons who stand with them) had brought me. But yet, I still lived in fear of facing this person. What would I say? What would that person do? How would I react? What if I started to crack up under the pressure?

The binding of this offense from years ago still has a choke-hold on me.

It is not that this person makes me feel angry. It is fear mostly that I feel. Fear of the unknown, fear of what could happen, fear of humiliation. Fear of facing this person. I am reminded of that verse which states that perfect love casts out fear. To be exact, the words of this verse say this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man (or woman) who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4: 18, NIV) I wonder- what if I practiced loving this person instead of channeling my energy into fearing them. What might transpire were that to happen?

I can tout myself as being a loving person but if I cannot love my enemies, the love I offer is shallow. Who wouldn’t find it easy to love those who treat us well, those who build us up, edify our character? It is easy to love when love feels good. So much harder to love when the price is our pride, our image. We shouldn’t love solely when it is easy- we must love when it is hard. For in loving, we are free. But this is hard work- it require discipline.

I have found in recent years a yearning in my soul to exemplify love in my life. This love is not my own- it is God’s love channelled through me. It is supernatural love of a divine nature. And because I feel the power and presence of love in my life, I am free to love others in the very same ways I too experience love. Unconditionally, liberally, wholly.

In thinking about the offence I have felt over the years, one of which I make mention of above, I am humbly reminded of the offences at times that I have caused. At times, unknowingly and at other times, purposefully. If I am in any way offended by those who have hurt me, how much more then are those whom I have hurt injured by my offence to them? In being human, we are prone to hurt one another by our very nature- one does not have to look far in the news to find evidence of this. We are a hurting people. We live in pain. The freedom from which comes through forgiveness.

I wonder how much of our pain would be eased if we could only take the initiative to bear the weight of any offence committed against us through arms of love. What a humbling exercise- accepting responsibility to start the reconciliation process even when we haven’t been the one who wronged. This is not to say we must accept responsibility for wrongs done which we have not committed- it is just to say that in love and through grace, we can make the first move. This is biblical principle. For we see through scriptures over and over again that love is the antidote to the pain which breeds fear. Not that love can eradicate pain- but it can help us cope with our response to pain. True, there will always be those in our lives that inflict on us the brutality of injustice- but it is the reaction to such that determines the load we end up carrying. My response to the offender is what determines the pain I carry in my shoulders, in my body. In my heart. The release is found in forgiveness.

We must let go and in love move forward.

Recently, a very special woman shared with me her decision to go to someone who had deeply hurt her and how she found grace to offer a hand in love to this person. Just today, I read of a woman whose former husband murdered her three baby boys before turning the gun on himself. And yet, this hurting woman found strength in time to forgive this man, thus releasing her own burden of despair. I think of a man in our own community who offered forgiveness to another during his own family’s darkest hour. And in my own life, I have found the greatest peace has come through laying down my own agenda and rights so as to walk in peace with another human being. So as to walk in peace with my God. I am daily reminded through these and other stories- that it is in releasing our fear, our pain and choosing love in spite of the tremendous odds that we find supernatural strength to forgive.

It is there in the peaceful still that we find quiet, humble grace.

Blessings come through tears

We have a new baby kitten, so precious and sweet. The girls are enamored yet feel completely responsible for this little bundle of love. The other day, M.A. said to Husband with a sigh, “I am soooo tired of looking after this kitten” to which Hubs responded it was not her responsibility to do so: it was the mother cat who had that job.

Nevertheless, she feels it is.

Last summer, we had five little kittens born and raised on our property. One summer evening, the mother introduced them to us, calling them out from a Spirea shrub one-by one. They danced around our feet in the twilight much to the delighted squeals and giggles of our girls. We were taken by these little beings- they quickly wrapped themselves around our hearts.

One busy Sunday morning we were heading for church in a rush when Brian backed the van up quickly. One of the little kittens was situated under the tire, as they all found the warmth of our vehicle comforting. With a sickening feeling, Brian knowing he had backed over it, got out of the van without the children knowing and found the kitten. Still without telling them as he knew it would completely upset them at that moment, he moved the little lifeless body and carried on, feeling sick about the unfortunate event.

Even the life of a kitten has meaning and significance.

This summer, I have been watching this new mama cat as she cares for her single kitten and I have been struck with the fact that although she can do much as a mother, she cannot prepare her baby for the inevitable: its death. It is contrary to our normal inclination to think of death upon the emergence of new life, but the inevitability that life is followed always by death is something we cannot avoid. We as humans have the ability to be aware of our existence, something cats, in all their amazing capability cannot be.

Sadly, we as humans are not always aware that we are born to one day die.   Yet thankfully, we are reminded throughout life that it is the living that is sandwiched in between the entry and exit that makes all the difference.

I have been thinking of how we as parents- how we as the adults can prepare children for death. We know not how long any life has been given, know not the number of our days nor any one elses, for that matter. How do we live life while facing death? How do we prepare for this fact? Even with my own assurance of heaven, there is still the very real aspect of separation in death that we as humans must face. Death causes separation, even if but for a time. No one truly wants to leave behind those they love and adore.

In my extended family, we have had several premature deaths- two to infants and one to a teenager on her graduation night. In all three cases, it has been hard to make sense of the fact that these were not elderly people facing death after a long, fulfilling life. These were babies, these were children. How does one make sense of this? How is it that a child is as susceptible to their mortality as one who lives to be one hundred? But it is the very nature of our humanness to be so fragile- we are but a vapour, a breath- transfixed between the present and eternity with only our next lungful of air as a separating veil.

Is this life we live, as fleeting as it might appear to be, a blessing?

I talked to a dear friend recently about that word ‘blessing’- a beautiful word to describe life when things are going well, but a puzzling one when things are not. Is life a blessing? All life?

The night my aunt was taken, she who was then eighteen years of age and a brand-new high school graduate- that night, two officers came to my grandparents door in the wee hours of the morning. Came there to deliver the inevitable news- news no paret ever wishes to receive.   That an accident had occurred and their beloved baby girl had been the casualty.  Words could not express the emotions that would overcome a parent hearing such a fateful interruption during what would have been prior a peaceful night’s sleep. What images would run through the mind? What visions? Our sole desire as parents is to keep our children safe- and when we cannot, have not been able to keep this sacred oath, what must that do to a parental psyche? Where would one go to find solace?

My grandfather’s devout faith and trust in a loving God- in a God who blesses us even with showers that fall fast and furious at times, pelting us with their intensity. My grandfather said this: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the scriptures, Lord connotates a title of respect for one deemed in a position of honor, much the same as the word Rabbi is used to refer to a teacher. For my grandfather, he did not hesitate to acknowledge that the One he trusted most- the One who had proved faithful to him time and time again, would still prove faithful even in this storm.  And he used the word “blessed” to ascribe meaning- even to the taking of that dear one whom he held most precious.

How could this be?
Was this tremendous loss a blessing? For our family, we suffered the passing of a beloved daughter, sister, friend. Down through the years, we grandchildren have been told stories that honor my Aunt MaryAnne’s life. We have seen her legacy- and my own daughter is her namesake.  While death will never be celebrated as a blessing, for death is not lauded in the same way that we cherish life, the blessing was the life. She has never been forgotten, her life not rendered as history. Because through story, her memory lives on. Her life, however brief it may have been- was a blessing to those whom she met. There was not a soul who crossed her path that didn’t love her- she was that kind of girl. Years later, I still find people who talk of her genuine sweetness and purity of spirit. She was gentle and loving- and the world is a richer place because her life was in it.

We often say that we have been blessed with good health, good fortune, good genes, good luck. When the weather is nice we count it a blessing. But I would counter that life, no matter how short, how seemingly insignificant- is precious. Our lives are precious. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. It is a blessing to have been given the chance to breath in air, to feel sun rays’ gentle warmth on our upturned faces, to know what it is to have felt the rain. My grandmother of 92 sits day after day inside a manor in Fredericton and while it can seem to be a curse to live that long and no longer have the wherewithal to get up and move, the people in her life are a blessing to her. It is a blessing for her to be cared for by people who genuinely love her.

And while I even think of the people in this world who have not been blessed with love and care, I feel the challenge is left up to those of us who know this blessing well to then extend it outwards. So that everyone the world over can feel the touch of love, especially those who need it most. Acclaimed writer and critical theorist bell hooks said this about the blessing of love: “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be Christians, or who claim to be religious, were setting an example for everyone by being loving” (hooks, 2000, p. 74). Were this to be true, how much more would we then understand the meaning of that little word blessing?

The challenge is left to us.

Our lives are not for naught. They are precious, meaningful, purposed for a greater plan. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. A blessing to love, to have loved. And a blessing to have the opportunity to share this eternal love we know so well with the others in our lives.

Taking care of ourselves

She playfully bats at the little ball of fluff, her baby. Tousling, grooming, cuddling, nursing. But when she sees the need, setting the little kitten free to explore without the ever-present eye of Mama to govern and oversee. Sometimes, she completely appears to abandon, lazing in the sun while her tiny kitten sits alone on the top stair of our steps, wary and uncertain. Is Mama neglectful? I think not.

When mama cat lovingly stretches out languidly on our top step with baby nearby, her tiny offspring responds to her in love. There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the two. But it is one designed to set free so that the younger can one day take care of herself. To never allow for the certainty that the baby will one day be on its own would be a tragedy. True. Everyone needs love- even barn cats. But you rarely see amongst animals any form of helicopter parenting as one often sees in human parenting. Animals seem to know instinctively the balance needed so as to nurture and prepare their offspring for life after the nursery.

Care requires that we respond within a relationship. Within relationships of care, there is always a two-way exchange happening at any given time- a process which can reverse and rearrange at seemingly a moment’s notice. And all because relationships of care are responsive. A caregiver in relationship to another acknowledges a need or a requirement, responds to that need and then allows for caring to occur. This process can be reversed almost immediately, depending on the relationship. The cared-for- in response to the care emitted, can then responsively give care to the other almost immediately.

In thinking about care so much and so often, I am realizing that there are elements of care that we have forgotten. I feel we have forgotten at times how to take care. A local radio personality whom I have listened to over the years often signs off with the phrase, ‘take care of one another today’; from the moment I first heard this phrase, it has stuck with me. How does one take care? And where does care-taking begin?

I would suggest that there are dimensions of caretaking that we must heed. That we have overlooked. The first being our need to take care of ourselves.

There is an underlying assumption that we need to take care of one another in life, but in order to do this, we first need to learn the secret of taking care of ourselves. In taking care of ourselves, we need to learn to listen to our bodies, listen to our hearts. We have all heard of the spoken rule, given by flight attendants on airlines, to put on your own mask on first prior to helping your children or other dependents. I am convinced in my own life that the growth and development of care woven throughout my life experiences has been a direct result of my learned ability to care for myself, self-care guided for me by faith through the direction of a loving Father. For years, I looked to others to care for me. Why weren’t they doing what I thought was the basic of all human responses- caring? Why were people not responding to my needs? And why wasn’t I feeling loved and looked after? Why was I feeling so bereft? These feelings of a deficit in care followed me into my marriage, leaving me looking to a husband to fulfil the role of caretaker, a tremendous responsibility considering he was not even the one who had left me feeling unloved and uncared for in the first place. That was baggage I had brought into our marriage- a composite of my difficult years of schooling, my years in the public eye as a pastor’s kid and the other personal experiences of my life that directly impacted me in very private ways. We cannot first expect others to care for us if we have not learned how to care for ourselves. And I am convinced that many, many problems in marriages could be avoided if we first were able to redirect our need for care back to ourselves- as well as if we could start to see that the ways people express care, initiate care, offer care, interpret care and understand care: are different. Different. Not bad, worse, inferior or poorer: just different. Maybe we need to start by seeing the best in what another human being is offering us, starting with our partners.

I would never, ever wish the message I am conveying to be one in which we reduce the responsibility we have toward others. My life is rich because I have learned to care for others. I believe that the transformation in my life has been one in which, with God’s guiding hand, I was able to take something that was painful and difficult and see the good in it. I think this is the reason I am now able to responsively express care to others: there has been a miracle in my life. But I would never want to overstep the responsibility I have been given to care for myself in all of this. That was a first step in this process- understanding the needs in my life and slowly taking measures to meet those needs one by one through loving myself. Through accepting myself. Unconditionally. I had to learn to love myself so as to love others. And I cannot personally underestimate my faith in Jesus and my Abbba Father in this process- as I have come to understand I have a Father who loves me intimately and expressly, I can now love myself as an expression of His love. I am free to love the others in my life as I now know how much I am loved myself.

And this is the very essence of care: freedom to love and responsively give to oneself and the others in one’s life. Freely, wholly, purely.

All because of love.

Why I care

We talk a lot about white privilege, but it is a little more discomforting to broach a discussion on white poverty. Somehow it hits closer to home.

I grew up in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, a small rural farming community known for its potatoes and apple orchards. My community was aptly named Melvern Square, as it was a squared off corridor firmly anchored by three pillars: family, community and faith. My father was one of two pastors called to minister in this area, ensuring that I lived my life firmly fixed within the public’s eye- on first name basis with most everyone I’d meet.

It was an idyllic life in ways. We were poor but we got by. I remember trips to the country store- a one room building with wide wooden clapboards filling in the floor space, glass candy jars containing five cent goodies lining the back wall. When the front door was cracked even so much as an inch, an old-fashioned bell signalled both your appearance and your exit, ensuring you would never peruse the ice cream freezer or chip rack anonymously. Our house was sandwiched between the community center on the right and my father’s little brown country church on the left. Behind our property was the community pond for skating on in the winter and avoiding in the summer- as we all speculated that alligators or other forms of creepy-crawlies might live in there. Across the street was the consolidated school housing grades 1-6- a school which I never had the privilege of attending.

The school I attended was a private institution located in a neighboring community. When I entered the educational milieu, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I became the “other”- teased for my different religious affiliation, tortured for my family connection, belittled for my appearance. Separated for my difference. I was disconnected in many ways. And I soon came to understand the term “white trash” and its unflattering connotations, as that is what I began to feel I was while in this school. Trash. Unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very visible. This same private school I attended later came to be exposed regarding “issues” of a very serious, abusive nature. These privately held secrets of the upper echelon came to be outed in a very visible way via news media when I was in high school. When I now see images of residential schools, it brings to mind sordid mental pictures of what that time of life was like for both me and my classmates. That experience has forever changed the way I look at education.

So then. As long as I have been a student, I have been interested in ethics of care in classrooms. As I did not have the privilege of being exposed to ethics of care in most of my formative years of schooling, I now spend my life advocating for these pedagogies of love and care along with the foundational rights that I believe all people- young and old- are worthy of receiving and deserve to experience as a basic human right. By virtue of their humanity.

One of the specific memories I have as a student took place when I was in Grade 7, attending this same school mentioned above. A young man in Grade 10, who had been having a particularly difficult time in his life, went around one day after school saying good-bye to everyone he could see in the hallway. It struck me as strange that he would seek me out, as I was quite a bit younger than him and outside his social circle. That night, as I would come to discover, he drove his car into a wooded area and shot himself in the head. This was my first exposure to suicide.

Rather than taking time to counsel us in our grief and confusion, the teachers at this school used this opportunity to tell us how this boy, and thus his classmates, had been and were heading down the wrong path and needed to get things straightened out. It was one of the most poignant memories of my schooling. I can still hear the judgemental voice of the female teacher who told me and my classmates that Donnie* had obviously been in the wrong, and I will never forget that mental picture of him the day before he died, his face resolute: epitomized by soft spoken words and a calm demeanor. Although there are many layers to this story that I could pursue at length, my experiences as a student living through a deficit of care in my schooling, along with the many, many others of my classmates who echo this sentiment, has convinced me that care is the absolute number one priority of educators in the classroom. We are educating students for academic learning, yes. But I trust we are first and foremost developing caring, compassionate human beings in the form of both students and teachers who will live empathically in an interconnected, interdependent world. As an educator, this is fundamental to my practice.

I believe that when people learn to care, their learning is enhanced and their growth is furthered. Students and teachers are all the better for the care that they have cultivated, and I am not alone in holding this belief. Miller (2010) cites Nel Noddings’ work as being premiere in the encouragement of educators in fostering this care ethic. She suggests that educators pursue caring as one of their main goals in schooling and education, teaching students to learn to care for themselves, others and the environment as well as to care for ideas and learning (Miller, 2010, p. 63). Noddings has laid out a very systematic, comprehensive approach to caring that entails teachers be clear and unapologetic in their goal: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people” (Noddings in Miller, 2010, p.64). I can attest to the fact that many, many others hold this belief as I have heard from people writing in response to my blog on what students remember most about teachers. They almost unanimously stated the same: students remember that their teachers care.

We are a culmination of our past and present experiences- and the breadth and depth of these same experiences will hopefully lead to a brighter, more positive future as we learn and grow.  When we know better, we do better.  I trust that this statement will always be true of my life and that my legacy will be one of care and love.