Reaching for joy…

We stand in a circle of friendship this night of the Blood Moon, our feet planted firmly in soft sand while truant strands of pony-tales and coiffed hair-dos blow helter-skelter in autumn breezes. Earlier, we walked the hard-packed sand-floor from one point to another– me, with roving eyes on the prowl for sea glass. Others, just meandering along the jagged shoreline. I stop several times to add to the stash in my dress pant pocket so that each time I find place for the newest piece, my hand meets gathered grains of sand and other bits of ocean treasure. There is something mystical about the sea in autumn. Like a numinous, burgeoning being, it nips at our toes, crashes against the shore and then recedes as if in fear.

We hate to leave this place tonight- drawn together as we have been caused to come. Our hands and hearts are joined in love in the still of the moment even as we share one last poignant illustration of the evening to take away in our hearts. This illustration, one that calls on a memory of happiness from our recent days or years of life. Thus, the question is posed: When or where were we the happiest? Or put another way, at what time in our lives do we remember pleasure in its exquisite form? And at what point in our lives were we most joyful?

I listen as these enchanted hearts express the pleasures of the soul: births, weddings, trips, unexpected surprises. We revel in the sheer wonder of it all. How we can recall with delight the newness of the experience and the excitement of the incident in a momentary remembrance is marvellous.

And yet. It is so easy to lose the joy. To lose the innocence of celebrating pure pleasure. So easy for us to forget those emotions and feelings that call us back to time and place.

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Later on, I casually mention to Husband that it has been a very long time since I have felt excitement for an event or happening, calling back to that aforementioned illustration I had chosen to share about a moment of happiness. And in truth, I forget what this raw emotion of excitement feels like. Forget what it is to be elated with surprise, with anticipation. I comment as we walk the rain-slick road that I feel dry- that I am becoming dull, my feelings lacklustre at best.

Where does joy slip away? And how?

We live in a world that calls us to the heights of fear and the throes of love. A world that demands of us a response: to be appalled, sad or ecstatic. Invigorated. Jubilant. Horrified. We watch news clips day after day after day and all the while, expected responses to sensational headlines are left hanging there suspended in midair, waiting for us to claim them. Waiting for us to accept, reject or release them. But I wonder this: how often do we FEEL anything?

What do we feel?

Do we feel horror about the atrocities in the world happening right now? The injustices? The calamity on both small-scale and far grander schematas?

Do we feel sadness when we see pain and suffering? When we see hurt and sorrow?

Do we experience joy and thrill in the revel of a promise? With the invitation to witness a miracle?

Are our hearts hardened to the all-too- common horrors and equally compelling everyday moments of feeling that lie available to us at every turn?

How often when my children are wounded that I as their mother am called upon to feel their pain.  Just the other day when Daughter was hurt, her desire was to have me identify with her in the pain.  To come alongside and feel what it is to be wounded.  I am good at feeling pain- it comes with the territory. But how does a mother feel joy and elation when the world is so full of painful things to bear?

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We walk back to the beach house. I feel the cold ground beneath my naked toes, feel the wind ripping at my corduroy jacket. I feel peaceful and content.  And that’s when I catch a glimpse of it: of joy. It is here with me- with us, in this place. It waits for me and for all of us right there on the doorstep, playfully calling our names. And I see that the answer lies within the question.

We only have to reach for it- and it will find us.

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On stress…

It’s soon bell time and we’re getting ready.

Along with the congested hallways full of lively kids, that bus pass stuck to her locker is quite possibly one of the first things she sees as I open the classroom door to the busy hallway.  That piece of white paper folded and stuck on with a strip of masking tape, the numbers to a different bus marked out in blue-ballpoint pen. I nearly forget the fact of its existence in the end-of-day rush. For it’s time to get ready for home- coats, shoes and backpacks stand by at the ready. All but this One Little are eager for the last ritual of another busy school day.

She’s definitely not up for it today- doesn’t want to do it and makes that point plain to me, arms folded across her chest. I coax and plead, but to no avail. I can feel frustration settle in even as I hear in my voice what resembles annoyance. All I want her to do is put on her coat and shoes so that I can take the students to the bus. She alone refuses, standing in the doorway to our classroom. Not budging. I watch her finally zip up the coat part way, only to zip it down again, leaving it flapping open- and all while I watch on helplessly.

I turn so she cannot see the look on my face, expressing my exasperation in another direction.  My colleague offers quiet suggestions while I compose myself.

We finally get the coat and shoes on, but the former remains unzipped. I decide to pick my battles. As we head to the bus with a few minutes to spare, another predicament emerges. That bus pass which I had not taken into account is all of a sudden the focal point of our attention. She doesn’t want to go on the new bus- as a different driver awaits, this unfamiliar face being the very last straw for both her and me. She hides behind me as I turn like a dog chasing its tail. As I move, so does she. We dance this awkward two-step until I stop and look her in the eye:

“Are you afraid of going on a different bus?” I ask.

She nods her head and grunts a little affirmative. I finally understand, but am left still to deal with the very real predicament of her balking in the parking lot. We are nowhere near her bus. I look around and wonder who I can get for help. Each child I ask, Little One shakes her head ‘no’ to and then pulls away, shrinking in behind me as if to disappear from sight. I have no idea how this is all going to end.  No idea what options are left at my disposal. Finally, support arrives in the form of a Big Friend from the bus.  We are all relieved and tell her so. She offers to take my Little One’s hand and walks her to the bus.

My Little One acquiesces. Offer received. I breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve overcome one hurdle. And that’s all I need for today.

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The very next day, another Little Guy finds out that there is a change in his bus driver as well, and he too is almost paralyzed with fear. He forgets where to place his shoes in our familiar cubby, eyes glazed over as he loses himself in worry. I walk him to his bus and while I stand at the foot of the bus step, I look over to see him sitting there in the front row, tears welling up in his eyes. He is so fearful he cannot even process the lively banter around him. I call him to come to me, and I wrap my arms around him with the warmth of my embrace. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t protocol- as far as I am concerned, it’s the only human thing I can think to do right now.

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And so it goes.

I talk to a teacher in the hallway on a more personal level about the stress of an evening earlier on in the week at the Gard house, and we both laugh at the absurdity of the stories we tell. But underneath the laughter is a strain of forced notes and flattened chords. We are pushing ourselves to do more, be more.  Make more. “That speaks of the stress everyone is under in the system,” another colleague listening in wisely offers.

It’s everywhere… and rampant. Stress. We all feel it and it takes but a moment for the seed of contention to conceive and develop. Stress. I see it in children’s eyes, in their faces. Stress. Fear of the unknown, of new situations. Of failure. I see it in my colleagues eyes too at the end of another busy day. I hear it in my own Four Dear Ones banter with me at the start of the day- from angst over misplaced items, to bigger worries and fears that are becoming more and more unexpressed.

I feel it in my gut: it’s why I walk our country road each and every day.  I have to- my body and mind demand it.

I don’t like all this stress- it’s eating us alive.

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It’s a new day, and I determine to make this one an opportunity for possibility. I run into problems before we even break for lunch- a Little One balking again at the instructions for a game she is playing with friends. This time, instead of feeling immediate annoyance, I try to put myself into Her shoes and I ask questions that enable her to express her fears and concerns. Instead of trying to understand it through my experience, I try to see it through her’s. And what I see first is a child who is afraid.   But then I start to see something else- a glimpse, really. Of a child who, with the right supports, has every possibility to learn to overcome.  Who has the tools within her to let stress go and embrace the joy of living.

I hold her hand and we walk hand in hand. And I feel it.

The stress is gone.  Here comes the joy…

We See What We Want To See

We see what we want to see.
If we want to see the world in front of our eyes through a lens of hope, it’s ours to choose so.
If we wish to view the people in our world as worthy- deserving of respect and value, we can make that choice too.
If we desire to see the possibility in a situation, we have that ability.
If we would like see our neighbor for the good found within, that is a choice we can make.
If we are watching world events right now and the downward spiral that seems to make the news, we can choose to buy into this mode of thinking or stop the cycle from continuing.
We can see what we want to see.
We can.

I wake to an overcast morning. Grey clouds hang low. Rain threatens. We ease our way into the morning and have a late breakfast of toast, cereal and banana-and-yoghurt before walking to the end of the road and back. As we walk, this idea surfaces in our talk. This idea which involves the opening of our eyes to the world around us- to what is and what we choose to see, those things and people that share our world. That have an inherent value that lies within.

I look around me and notice the people. Notice the animals. Notice the world. I notice how easy it is to forget to notice.

Sometimes we refuse to see. That is our choice to make.
At these times, we end up seeing only what we want to see.

I am rushing through the grocery store. There are line-ups in every queue when I go to check out. I quickly slip into an opening, but see out of the corner of my eye a woman in her later years slowly moving towards my very spot. She leans heavily on the cart for support. I catch her eye and ask, “Was this spot one you were headed for?” She smiles. I move back quickly and offer her my place in the queue. As I am leaving for another check-out, I catch a woman behind me politely apologizing to another whom she has accidentally bumped. And at the cash, the shopper in front of me and the cashier exchange pleasantries while I stand back and wait.

And all the while, I am watching.

A grocery store is a place to see and notice. To watch people. For people buying groceries are usually also people with stories, lives, problems, issues, concerns, heartaches, troubles and joys. These people go about their lives and then randomly convene together in this place- a grocery store. Gathering food to feed their families, obtaining sustenance for life. And while they go about this task, people like me have the unique privilege of seeing these others. Seeing the person that lies within. And seeing the opportunity for compassion, opportunity for kindness. The potential to make a small difference in someone’s day.

Small things often make a big difference. And when we look for the best, we often see it.

We can see each other as obstacles. Or we can see one another as gifts.
And in each every-day, mundane place we find ourselves, in every aspect of life: there is opportunity.

Opportunity to see the beauty in humanity that lies within.
Opportunity to notice the best people have to offer.
Opportunity to see what is- not just what we want to see.

We See What We Want To See

We see what we want to see.
If we want to see the world in front of our eyes through a lens of hope, it’s ours to choose so.
If we wish to view the people in our world as worthy- deserving of respect and value, we can make that choice too.
If we desire to see the possibility in a situation, we have that ability.
If we would like see our neighbor for the good found within, that is a choice we can make.
If we are watching world events right now and the downward spiral that seems to make the news, we can choose to buy into this mode of thinking or stop the cycle from continuing.
We can see what we want to see.
We can.

I wake to an overcast day. Grey clouds hang low. Rain threatens. We ease our way into the morning and have a late breakfast of toast, cereal and banana-and-yoghurt before walking to the end of the road and back. As we walk, this idea surfaces in our talk. This idea which involves the opening of our eyes to the world around us- to what is and what we choose to see, those things and people that share our world. That have an inherent value that lies within.

I look around me and notice the people. Notice the animals. Notice the world. I notice how easy it is to forget to notice.

Sometimes we refuse to see. That is our choice to make.
At these times, we end up seeing only what we want to see.

I am rushing through the grocery store. There are line-ups in every queue when I go to check out. I quickly slip into an opening, but see out of the corner of my eye a woman in her later years slowly moving towards my very spot. She leans heavily on the cart for support. I catch her eye and ask, “Was this spot one you were headed for?” She smiles. I move back quickly and offer her my place in the queue. As I am leaving for another check-out, I catch a woman behind me politely apologizing to another whom she has accidentally bumped. And at the cash, the shopper in front of me and the cashier exchange pleasantries while I stand back and wait.

And all the while, I am watching.

A grocery store is a place to see and notice. To watch people. For people buying groceries are usually also people with stories, lives, problems, issues, concerns, heartaches, troubles and joys. These people go about their lives and then randomly convene together in this place- a grocery store. Gathering food to feed their families, obtaining sustenance for life. And while they go about this task, people like me have the unique privilege of seeing these others. Seeing the person that lies within. And seeing the opportunity for compassion, opportunity for kindness. The potential to make a small difference in someone’s day.

Small things often make a big difference. And when we look for the best, we often see it.

We can see each other as obstacles. Or we can see one another as gifts.
And in each every-day, mundane place we find ourselves, in every aspect of life: there is opportunity.

Opportunity to see the beauty in humanity that lies within.
Opportunity to notice the best people have to offer.
Opportunity to see what is- not just what we want to see.

Someone Sees

photo from http://www.theguardian.com

There is a catch in her voice. I can tell by her tone that the tears fall freely down her cheeks. She tells me her Youngest Boy has just flown out this morning at 6:00 a.m. and that she woke in time to stand on her deck and watch the plane circle and fly overhead. Heading for distant places, distant spaces- far, far away.

We marvel at this modern wonder- that a monstrosity of aluminum and steel observed as a speck in the sky can lift a precious Loved One into the air and beyond is at times astonishing to the amateur. That this same Loved One might be oblivious and unaware that his devoted mother stands guard, watching- is equally astounding and noteworthy.

But tell me this: if a plane flies overhead with your child aboard and that same child is unaware that you stand alert and attentive from far below, is this noteworthy? Significant? Is this ordinary happening complete with any meaning?
Does it matter?

Monday morning, Youngest and I travel home from Charlottetown at dinner time and pass by Sister’s house where her two young boys play outside. The youngest boy stands at the foot of the playhouse while his older brother looks down from the loft. I imagine the conversations that are transpiring. I watch for a brief blip of a second after which Youngest and I again remark that it is interesting that these two loved boys are not privy to our watching. They have no idea we are even in the area- for all they know, we are in our own surroundings located the two hour’s drive away. Not breezing by on the highway that runs in front of their house. It is at one and the same time unnerving that we can be watched unawares and yet a strange comfort to know that the people who love us might be watching our comings and goings.

Yes. This has been a week of watching. We watch the world respond to Robin William’s death, the killing of Missouri teen Michael Brown, the killing of John Crawford III in an Ohio Walmart. We observe in horror as Sunni militants terrorize and overrun so as to create an Islamic Empire in northern Iraq even as clashes are ongoing along the Gaza Strip. Crisis is still very much the word in other parts of the Middle East, including Libya and Syria. Some have even said that with all that is going on currently, things are more dangerous in that part of the world than they ever have been at any time in the past. These are dangerous times. There is much to watch and much to pray vigilantly for.

Even as these crises of epic proportions are going down in far-flung parts of the world, little wars are being waged here at home. Little battles being fought. A mother’s body struggles to accept her chemo, a child has just been diagnosed with a rare disorder, a new cancer patient has just been delivered the news. A woman struggles to accept her mental illness. A father grapples with dire financial straits. People are lonely, afraid, anxious and hurting, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to state that there is pain in the world.

Life is happening all over the place and one has to wonder- is anybody watching? Who is attending to all this pain and anguish?

photo from http://angelawaite.me/category/environmental-photography/

As I walk the country mile this evening, watching burnished grain blowing gently in the breeze, I consider this notion of watching/being watched. And believing as I do that I am watched over by One whose eye is on the sparrow- whose hand has counted every grain of sand, every hair on my head, I feel a comfort. Comfort in imagining His hand as holding me in the hollow- safe from any harm that was not meant to come my way. Comfort in knowing that I am being kept. Preserved. For such a time as this.

For I am safe even in my freedom to come and go.  To be myself. Even as the storms rage around me, threatening to dismantle and upend.

Last Friday, I was pulling out on a busy stretch of highway in Charlottetown. I had all the children with me and we were heading in town having just left my mom and dad’s house. For whatever reason, a large four-by-four pulled up on the inside shoulder of the road, blocking my view of the highway. Having believed that the coast was clear, I pulled out into oncoming traffic. As I did so, I could see several vehicles barreling straight for my path of entry in the very lane I was pulling into. For a moment, I panicked. And then quickly manovered the van off the road until it was safe to pull out again.

That this happened shook me. I know if I had been hit, it would have been on Son’s side that the impact would have occurred. For several hours afterwards, I could not shake the nagging sensation of ‘what if’. I couldn’t get the visual out of my mind. But after some time had passed, I began to think of the significance of the event. Our vehicle endured a close call. We as occupants in that vehicle were preserved. Had anyone been watching us, they would have been aware of the significance of this feat. The significance of our preservation.

Someone was watching us even as we were unaware.

Someone saw us. And I realize that our safety and protection in this instance, while significant, are not the real story. The story is not necessarily that we were protected (as wonderful as that is), but that we were watched. We were in His view. Someone is out there in very much the same way as Daughter and I were attentive to my nephews on that Monday morning, as my Mom was aware there on her deck and as many of us in the world are holding space for the millions of displaced, disadvantaged, hurting, wounded, suffering people in this world.

This I know: Someone is out there- and He is standing watch. Keeping vigil.  And as He keeps watch, I am held Held in the very hollow of His hand.

Safe, secure and kept.  And all because He’s watching.

 
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Best End of Summer Parent Ever

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I apologize to anyone who is still not on summer vacation.  As well as to anyone reading this who has returned to school.  I am Canadian and our summer vacation starts basically in July.  So forgive me for still holding on to summer until the bitter end.

The other morning, I had Youngest to the Doctor. When it came to the eye/ear exam, the good physician peered into my child’s unshowered/unbathed/unwashed ear and exclaimed: “Oh, good. She has two grains of sand in her ears. All children should have at least some sand in their ears in the summer.”

Huh. I had no idea.

And if that were not reason enough to love summer- c’mon, it is the one time of the year we are awarded brownie points at the doctor’s office for uncleanliness, my child’s pediatrician also had this to say about Daughter’s bruised/scabby legs: “I see someone has been playing outside a lot this summer.”

{Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.}

So I guess that’s a score for Your’s Truly. I might have a child that looks like a prisoner of war/child soldier, but it doesn’t even matter. It’s summer. And the dirty, wounded, scabbed look is all the rage during this optimum time of year.

I am sorry to say this, Dear Girlfriends of mine who are chomping at the bit for school to arrive.  I know you love the routine of September and its glorious, blissful seven-hour school days, but… it is still summer people. It might be August. The days might be longer. The weather changing. The wardrobe needing of a little warmish fall apparel.  The sun moving farther from our northerly parts. But it is still summer. And I will hold to that sentiment until 6:45 a.m. the morning I am scheduled to be back at work. I read Jen Hatmaker’s tribute to being the ‘worst end of summer parent’, and I confess: I am just not ready to get off this train. The caboose may be headed down a crash course to oblivion but I am holding on tight. I will ride it until the bitter end.

What’s not to love about summer, my dear people? The long days, the endless options, the sun. The SUN. I mean, seriously?!  Lest we forget the power outages due to record snowfall/ice storms back in far-away, far-off February/March, the snowsuits, winter boots, frozen car interiors and the like.  Let me remind you: THERE IS NO SNOW IN SUMMER. 

Hello. Best.reason.ever. (to love summer).

But that said, there are so many other reasons to love this fair time of year. Oh, let me count the ways:

1. It is the one time of year I can bar-b-q breakfast, lunch and supper. You think I am kidding. I am not. Well, maybe about breakfast, but that is only because we have a toaster.
2. My kids are tired, whiny, cranky, exhausted- you name it, but I am not even losing  (all of my) marbles. Because it’s summer- and I know that tomorrow there is the very good chance that they will sleep in. And maybe so will I.
3. I can get away with wearing a bathing suit as an outfit (as unpleasant an image as that might conjure up in some of your minds).
4. It is the one time of the year I survive on a steady intake of iced coffee, milkshakes and smoothies as my dairy supplement.
5. Camping. There are not enough words to describe my adoration for camping.  I absolutely adore campgrounds with pools, other peoples’ children (serving as a distraction for my own Four Dear Ones), sewer hook-up, water and electricity. I would sell all I own and take up waterfront residence at KOA Cornwall, PEI in a heartbeat (if it meant never needing to vacuum again).
6. Smores. Best supper alternative ever.
7. Flip-flops.  Slip on, slip off.  Ingenious.
8. Warm, balmy evening air- there are no words to describe this amazing natural wonder.  I love leaving the house in anything less than a parka.
9. Summer relaxation- is there anything like it? Is there anything quite like an evening sitting out by a campground with friends, watching the wood in the fire pit smoulder and burn?  Anything quite like an afternoon spent on the water?  Or a quiet morning whittled away on the porch swing? I should say not. You can take that pleasant memory with you to the cold, frigid days of late January and let it sit there and shiver.
10. Last but not least- water. Water in the summer is paradise. I love looking at it, touching it, drinking it, pouring it over my flowers, boating on it, swimming in it, canoeing over it, diving under it, splashing it on unsuspecting people. I can even tolerate small portions of time spent cleaning with it (particularly if I am at a campground- see #5) Water in summer is at it’s best. Throwing ice at people when the temperature is -26 with the windchill just doesn’t have the same effect.

Look, I understand. We are all burn-out right about now. My children cry over nothing. Nothing! If someone looks at them the wrong way there are noises emanating from them that could break the sound barrier. But I will put up with this minor inconvenience if it means summer will stay.

Keep your piece of mind- I will have my blissful slice of summer lovin’.

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.